Thursday, 20 September 2018

Short Story: Brained


Trigger warnings:  Allusions to racism and child abuse.
Some graphic violence. 



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My name is Chuck and I have a problem.  Someone has stolen my brain. 
Now, before you start worrying about an empty skull and trails of drool and whatnot, the first thing I should tell you is that it’s dead.  It’s been dead for ages.  As have I, as far as the county coroner is concerned. 
The thought of running my thoughts through such…slow hardware would turn my stomach if I had one. 
I am what you might call a post-human: a digital representation of a mind not willing to die at the tender age of fifty-seven, when my rather extensive resources ran up against the hard limits of medical science.  As far as benefits go, I feel better now that I’m unfettered by failing organs and weak bones.  I no longer have biological needs or weaknesses.  My mind is blindingly fast, with unlimited access to the wellspring of human knowledge. 
I recommend it to everyone, if your idea of heaven is being able to go anywhere and do anything you could possibly imagine without consequence or harm.  As long as you’ve got the money, welcome aboard.  I should note that the barrier to entry is a plus, as far as I’m concerned.  
Keeps the riffraff out.
There are problems, of course. 
As you may have guessed, the definition of ‘legally dead’ is no end of trouble.  Corpses and/or parts thereof don’t exactly have rights once they’re turned over for medical use.  My brain is, as far as I know, the only part of my physical body that still exists.  The useful bits of me were carved up and sold years ago.
Still, that preserved grey matter is very much a necessary evil, since it represents hard-fought legal loophole that permits me to exist as I do. 
Let me explain. 
For the less informed, enlightened or as yet un-ascended, digital personalities are still a major no-no.  This on account of the first artificial ones doing their level best to wipe out humanity.  Turns out flesh and blood is extremely inefficient. 
So, digital sentience is a banned technology.  But, human-derived consciousness isn’t quite the same thing.  At least it’s not according to a comfortable majority of Supreme Court Justices, several of whom happen to be my neighbors. 
Which means we all live under their rules. 
And foremost among them: our brains are the necessary proof that we were once post-simian, physical existences.  Without it, I am just a bit of errant code, an unauthorized personality running on several interconnected servers.  And that means significant liability for whoever owns those servers.  It doesn’t matter that I pay them a fortune for the privilege.  It doesn’t matter that being cleaned up by their maintenance programs is about as final a death as I can experience. 
All that matters is that I have precisely ten hours to fix this.
So, who took my brain?
My metaphysical gut told me before I could confirm it.  Dayo.  My ex-wife.  Still mad that I left everything to the kids.  Kids I had with another woman.  Well, women.  Fine, her sister and her best friend.  And several others.
I admit it felt pretty sweet.  About as sweet as that first time I…no, best not go down that road – the decency police are ever watchful.
I protected my fortune, or rather my team of accountants and lawyers did, by funneling it away from that snake of a woman.   
What did she expect?  We were together for a paltry thirty years.  Yes, she helped me get started by working a few jobs while I went through college.  And yes, she came up with several of the designs of my first products.  But the patents are in my name – doesn’t she understand how hard it is to hire a lawyer to write a proposal and send it in?  When’s the last time she thought about my needs? 
No way was she going to take half of everything I own. 
Five seconds is a long time in a digital world, but that’s what I need to coax the security system to give up its treasures.  And confirm she was responsible.  How she managed to scam her way into this place, much less claim the jar my brain floats in is another issue.  Which reminds me, I’ll need to contact my lawyers.
But right now, I don’t have time for ‘legal’ remedies.
One of the benefits of being digital is my capacity to…move.  The software driving my consciousness is currently the standard in both data-streaming and world simulation.  There’s no counting the companies that have licensed it to produce their own special versions of reality.  And since it’s a hugely popular and profitable product, just about every networkable device in the world contains the chipsets required to run it. 
Which is good, because that means I am compatible with all of them.
And also how, metaphorically speaking, I have broken into my ex-wife’s home.  She’s still very much limited by the physical world, what with having to drive home.  I’ve made the journey simply by pasting the relevant part of myself into an email attachment.  Sadly I am not able to create copies – some are still convinced that capacity would be disastrous.  And they're right.  If I could self-replicate, I would not be concerned about such an unimportant matter.  I would be competing with other intelligences for space, bandwidth and resources in a wholly different kind of war. 
But, back to the present. 
It’s an interminable wait, but a necessary one.  Dayo still drives that old rust-bucket – an analog car with a manual transmission.  And zero networked devices.  She doesn’t even have her phone on her.  Something about that should concern me. 
But I’m more involved with her house warden.  Domestic AI – and by that I mean a database with a long list of if/and/or arguments – is easy enough to fool.  Particularly when said database still contains entries that identify me as friendly.
Traffic being what it is at this time of day, I’ve had the run of the house for a couple hours.  And that means I’ve read her mail, snooped through her finances, deleted several objectionable contacts from her address book and sent a series of nasty letters out to her family.  If she’s going to mess with me, the least I can do is the same to her. 
Sadly, her predilection towards small town comforts rather than urbane refinement hasn’t changed.  Drove me mad when we were together.  I don’t get her love of wooden furniture or wicker baskets.  Or why she still refuses to have skin lightening treatments – she’s not getting any younger. 
By the time she pulls into the driveway, I’m feeling aglow from invading her privacy. 
I can feel when her biometrics open the front door – sense her passing by her small living room. 
I hide in her toaster – a small box of circuits concerned with dry observations of bread and bagels.  I was always better at dealing with household appliances.  She used them sporadically, apologized for wearing them out and had a hard time throwing them away.
I intend to confront her.  I’ve got enough evidence for the police.  Even without it, they'd likely prefer my version of events to hers.  But I don't really care if she's convicted or not.  My goal at the moment is to get my brain back where it belongs.  I've enough resources to exact my revenge later. 
I splice into the security cameras so I can see her.  She’s looking old.  Old and quaint.  Almost frumpy.  There’s a package in the crook of her arm – which is when I realize I’ve never actually seen my brain-box before.  It’s an odd feeling, seeing your right to life summed up in a cubic foot of glass and formaldehyde. 
She practically drops it on the counter.   
Careful, you stupid cow!
“Magda, is he here?”  Her question shocks me down to my binary. 
“He is.”  Magda is what she calls her home if/and/or decision tree.   It speaks in familiar monotone.
I don’t like this, but even so, only a small part of me occupies her toaster.  The rest of me is safe on my home servers. 
“I have something to say to you.”  She finds the kitchen camera and stares hard at the lens.  At me.  “Everything you did to me, I could forgive.  The money, the cheating, the lying.  Everything.  I knew you were a piece of shit, so when you left me, when I found out about Ella and Tasha and the kids, I chalked it up to my own poor judgment.”  She shakes her head and I see a profound sadness there.  “But.  Two weeks ago I met a ten year old boy and his mother.  He looks like you.  His mother is twenty five.” 
Oh, so that’s what this is about.  See, I can explain-
Dayo unscrews the top of the jar, scoops out the dripping meat and holds it up.  “I hope you enjoy the show.”
My brain thuds into the sink.  She opens the cupboard underneath, pulls out a plunger, a toilet plunger of all things, and turns on the trash compactor.  I can see the ropy muscles of her arms as she puts her strength into the job; strands of her black hair come loose from the gathered ringlets at the crown of her head.   
There’s no way to describe the sight or sound of your brain being shredded.  But it's death so complete it leaves me cold.  Cold and empty.  Frozen.
“Did you see that Charles?”
I shriek, but make no sound.  I scream every profanity I can imagine.  I promise myself, I swear by every God known to man that before I go, I will destroy her life.  Everything she’s ever done, every friend she’s made, I’ll kill every ungrateful one of th-
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A short log is all that marks the detection and removal of a malignant personality.  Profile C-2.81983 non-compliant.  Deleted.  Maintenance complete. 
THE END

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