He laughed hysterically. He had to play the part. They said he was a crazy, old man; and, “yes,” he admitted to himself, “it’s true!”
He couldn’t stop laughing as he stared at the white, padded walls. Graham Gunther believed he was misunderstood… he was a scientist doing cutting edge work. Of course, he had a few personality quirks, but who didn’t. Dr. Graham Gunther hated other people: they smelled, stole from one another, committed murder, and screwed like giant insects… and worst of all, they died. He knew old age was a disease: a painful, debilitating disease that ended in oblivion. The human body was simply a rotting sack of flesh. Gunther couldn’t admit he was human, but old age still came calling and death was right behind. Dr. Gunther wanted to rid the world of the human disorder. He wanted to save himself. The experiments he performed on unwilling students eventually resulted in his incarceration and the designation of a new mental disorder, Gunther’s Syndrome.
The TV time-machine reminisces rhapsodically, “Mr. Dillon, I got the latest psycho-sexual enhancement pills and I feel great! I got it all in the handy pocket-sized container that includes a powerful body make-over and lots of pearly-white-teeth — All for just pennies per day.” “But, wait! There’s more…”
Graham Gunther admitted to the list of crimes against humanity. He pleaded guilty with extenuating circumstances… he claimed he was mentally ill, driven by obsessive-compulsive urges he could not control. He was sentenced and spent the remaining years of his life in a prison for the criminally deranged. After his death he was pardoned by an aging President who sought radical cures for his newly diagnosed mental instability. Pardoning Dr. Gunther opened the floodgates for continued experiments that were developed by the recently dead doctor. Student volunteers were forced to run a gauntlet of physical endurance tests… forced to ingest poisonous chemicals… and forced to submit to mutagenic processes.
The abandoned Biosphere 2 (near Tucson, AZ) was refurbished. It became the laboratory for radical experimentation. Groups of scientists and ill-informed volunteers assembled in the new laboratory. The Biosphere was brought back online as a self-sustaining environment. The new inhabitants were disconnected from the outside world. A community was established based on the principles of B.F. Skinner. The scientists designed the experiments and managed the community. The volunteer subjects were prodded, poked, and analyzed. Huge monographs were published describing the results and failures of manifold experiments. Old age was slowly on the decline, eradicated from human existence.
The years unfolded like the bellows on an accordian. President Riley Dunbar moved into the Biosphere to join the intrepid group of scientists and their much maligned volunteer-subjects. The leadership viewed the volunteers as guinea pigs and servants. Some of the early experiments failed resulting in congenital freaks who now lurked in the dark recesses of the Biosphere. Eventually the experiments bore fruit. Infirmities resulting from old age completely disappeared. People got older without any debilitating illnesses. A breakthrough solution was substituting ailing organs with replacement parts using a Virtual Reality interface (the technique was suggested in Dr. Gunther’s notes). President Dunbar relished his newfound freedom from age-related afflictions. People rejoiced. Everyone continued to get older, but without pain.
“It’s all for the best,” that’s what they said to anyone who questioned authority. Zack always had questions. He always wrestled with angels — they appeared at night in order to impress Zack with their luminescence. Zack thought it was just a parlor trick: putting a flickering flashlight under a white gown. Still, it was impressive — even Zack had to admit it (and he did as he bowed before the Eminences while snickering under his breath). The angels weren’t impressed so they patted Zack on the head and said, “it’s all for the best.” Then, they strapped the lad to the midnight-bed and proceeded to attach wires to his brain and inject Prime Directives into the Hypothalamus and other soft-core tissues. It was a dream. When he awoke Zack no longer saw angels, but he kept hearing the Prime Directives in his head. The Directives mapped his life. It was like having a GPS inside his brain telling him where to go and how to get there.
Zack was living the good life. Murna, his AI interface, reassured him by repeating the message several times an hour. Everything was predictable except for the lights on the Motherboard that flashed at Zack and confused him. He couldn’t understand the code. He often found himself in the Liquid Web running between the hell zone of wireless transmissions trying to decipher the code. He was obsessed with the lights. His family and friends shared personal avatars and shadow surrogates so he was never alone, but he rarely knew them in person. Everyone cherished the solitude of self containment. It was easier and safer to interact from behind a wall.
The Directives told Zack the blinking lights were a mistake, a misguided principle.
Every Saturday he drove to the Liquid Web in his Loganda Flying-Swan and went searching for Happenstance, the thrill of discovering something unexpected or alien. He was also looking for the meaning of the blinking code. The routine was reassuring, but there was no longer anything interesting to discover.
“No time like the present,” warbled the giant, exploding pigeon at the Information Exchange. The greeting summoned a new day of trading Information for Time. Everyone was a Time trader. Stories and lies amounted to valuable information that could enhance life. Time was ever present, but it existed as a form of currency (never backed by gold — backed by nothing but Time). Zack no longer cared about Time or Information. He wasn’t paying attention when he tripped on a web browser that catapulted him into a meditation lounge where he bumped into a media celebrity named Zendora who was wearing purple snap-chat pantaloons. She radiated bombshell.
The pigeon at the Information Exchange exploded and Zack was enraptured. This was a once in a lifetime Happenstance, totally unaccountable. There was no physical interface, but information was exchanged. Zendora was an intriguing creature who seemed to fluoresce like an angel. It wasn’t love (no such concept existed), but there was understanding and a hint of mutual empathy. That’s when the horror show began. Zendora discarded her glowing flesh to reveal a host of flashing lights under the hood. The lights were blinking in code. This time, Zack understood.
The old man in the video was talking directly to Zack, “My brain was digitized allowing me to speak from beyond the grave. I made a mistake and you are the result. After my death, my experiments were continued. I was redeemed, but my work was the beginning of the end. I couldn’t accept my own humanity. I was rash… now, the human race is gone. You are all that remains: a web-browser, a robot who believes he is human.”