Sample chapters

Sample chapters

Day 1

1  House arrest

The white transfer amplifier in the bedroom jerked up a spike in activation as I thought to myself “Fuck, what now?”

It has been four weeks since I plugged my optical grid to the connected minds project and the secret was already out. I’d rip the legs off the butt of that someone who snitched on us to the national ethics council. How on Earth is neuroscience to advance if they lock us up and make us wait! For what? For tau plaques to deposit? I felt the spot of the endoscopic insertion just before my ear and returned to my meal.

The secretary of my home, a chubby-looking caramel-skinned majordomo service robot walked in on me having my extended breakfast in the sun-lit kitchen.

“Dr Kochanowska, there is a number of people here asking for your statement. Journalists, mostly, but also a writer who claims she wants to write a book about you and your work. An ‘old-fashioned biography’, she said” I looked up at him from above my protein and fiber-laden pancake. A piece of kiwi fell off my fork.

“You have a number of requests waiting for a response that’s been piling up since 2 weeks. Perhaps it is time you considered responding?” He has been set to prompt me about emails and messages left without a response after the 2-week mark. I can’t remember last time I’ve used this reminder function. I’ve always been kind of up to date with my public outreach, collaborators, readers and viewers. I liked the communication part of my work. It is very rewarding to share and teach when one has an audience that lends a keen listening ear. I gave him a long unappreciative stare he didn’t really deserve. Salvatore’s polite smile didn’t even twitch. Knowing that there were people still willing to hear me was comforting. It meant I have not completely fallen out of grace just yet. There were curious souls out there that were willing to come in contact with me despite the home arrest, or perhaps exactly because I was now being treated as a (potential, innocent until proven guilty) ethical criminal?

We’ve been using robots as punch-bags ever since their entry to our work spaces and homes and I didn’t have to reciprocate Salvo’s gracious prosody but I must admit I’ve grown fonder of him since my confinement to this space after the last hearing.

“Anyone interesting on the list?” I asked.

“There’s popular scientific press who would like to conduct a live-stream interview with you. There are a few independent bloggers who also want the same. Perhaps less interesting but potentially urgent – there are several service merchants who demand that you provide a public clarification that your recent accusation has in no way diminished the value of services they provide and that it does not put their clients in any jeopardy.”

“Blablabla..” – I silenced him. “This is not urgent, Salvo. These are people trying to make money off the attention my case is receiving. Scandal-seekers. Scavengers, unworthy of my time. But you mentioned a writer who wants to write about me? Tell me more.”

“Certainly. She is a young woman of 33 who has authored several Japanese manga-style comics for young adults. On April 18, before the hearing, she wrote you an email saying that your work has inspired her and many of her generation to ponder about what it means to be human and to envision new ways we can use science to become more humane. End of citation. She wants to produce what she calls a biography about your life as a neuroscientist, to ideally have access to some of your memories and to have you comment on them. She mentioned her interest in project Unison. Her name is Emma Printemps.” Salvo finished, turned his gently smiling face toward me and blinked once. A single blink with both eyes meant he finished the task. A double blink meant he would like me to rephrase the request or needed more information. And a wink meant… well, this was open to interpretation. I programmed him to randomly wink at people for fun, just to see what reaction it would cause in the listener. To make fun of my guests, mostly, because they appeared so bashful when the dark-skinned majordomo gave them an ambiguous wink. It always worked! I’ve had plenty of laughs over the years with this one little robo-tweak!

I drank another sip of hot coffee that was in fact too hot to drink. I’m an impatient person.

Is my biography supposed to be manga-style, too? I wondered. I’ve always liked magic and superheroes and fairytales. Whatever she writes could be fun and could not possibly ridicule me any more than my personal ridiculousness threshold would allow. And if I’m about to go down for good, it may be a good time to leave a record of my true intentions. It could be my last chance before my mind begins to degenerate due to natural ageing or before my memory decays and dilutes with everybody else’s in the network. Or the optical living neural grid malfunctions. So many things could go wrong now, I don’t even want to think about it.

“I’ll take the biography girl first. Please schedule an appointment with the following conditions: she gets no access to my registered memories, I shall not use any live recordings from my past in the interviews and thirdly, I refuse that any of the interviews be stored on video. I can agree to audio. And I reserve the right to withdraw my authorization for publication of anything she gets out of me” I paused to smile to myself and imagine this interview she wants. She may not be willing to yield to all my conditions. But oh well – I was the bigshot neuroscientist under home arrest trying to come clean and she was the comic book writer trying to get famous. We could only learn and help each other in this endeavor and this is the vision I had for it. “If it is an old-fashioned biography she would like to write, then we shall keep the conditions equally old-fashioned. It’s all about being authentic with me. Isn’t it, Salvatore?”

“It has never been otherwise, dear Paulina.” Salvo’s timing was errorless in switching from business to friendly chit-chat. He could read me like a book only faster! My slightest change of tone was immediately recognized and he leaned closer over my table to gently place his hand on my palm for “dear Paulina”.  I rejoiced in that moment of friendly intimacy with my pet, my computer and my servant, the amazing affective robot I myself helped design. He impressed me so much in those moments when I found myself so comforted by his perfectly timed expressions of tenderness. Every time I look at him I know that the scientific effort to end the epidemic of loneliness was worth it. But we’re not quite there yet, and we certainly won’t reach another milestone if this goddamn committee decides to arrest the project now!

I finished eating with a spoon my fruit-veg-spirulina-potassium and magnesium citrate and choline + whey protein powder + glucomannan smoothie, and got up to wash the dishes after this morning delight. Yes, I seriously have been eating such breakfasts for over 40 years now. I am very experimental and health-conscious in the kitchen. And I still wash the dishes myself because it is a ritual that helps me digest. I heard a humming sound coming from my bedroom. Was that a message or that cerebral signal amplifier box again?

Not 10 minutes have passed when Salvo spoke again.

“Dr Kochanowska, you have received a message from Emma Printemps.” He waited for my command to proceed.

“Yes, tell me.”

“She insists to use video streaming for all her young fans. She claims this is going to be the best way to reach the young audience and that they will benefit enormously from your inspirational live talk.”

The bloody writer was cleverly appealing to my love for educating the young minds. Which I certainly appreciated. I knew I did a good job as a speaker and my ego was just a tad too fond of this fact. So I had to control myself because it would be unwise to claim innocence and scientific integrity in front of the committee just a few days ago, promising remorse and agreeing to quiet contemplation in my home and then boast about my grand life as a scientist on live TV.

“And what did you respond?”

“I said that live recording is strictly forbidden for home prisoners.” He carefully posed the note of the last two words, pronouncing them slightly more gravely. ”I did not mention the legal paragraph referring to that prohibition.” –  He winked at me. What a marvel of human thought behind this technology! My robot just white-lied to a stranger to comply with my innocent wish for privacy. I was amazed and touched at what seemed to be an ingenious combination of intelligence in human relations and dedication to me.

“Excellent.” I smiled at him. “You are brilliant, Salvo.” I congratulated and picked up the caffetiera to refill my coffee cup. I have been addicted for decades and not ashamed to admit it.

“Thank you, Madame. I shall softly leave you to your thoughts now.” And he slowly glided out of the kitchen.

Softly, I will leave you softly for my heart should break if you should wake and see me go…” I started singing in response to Salvo’s semantic prompt. He was so charming; I could speak for hours just telling you how wonderful he was. Salvatore was my creation and I loved him because of that and not only because he knew me better than uncle Google and charmed me with Frank Sinatra’s songs to make my morning a perfect one. If only he could dance! Oh well, I have always wanted too much.


© Ewa Miendlarzewska 2017, 2018