Her mind was chaos.
He tried parsing through the thoughts, but they were a tangled mess of disconnected information.
Filter: conscious, he thought. Her thoughts changed to flashes. Still disconnected but at least it was only one thing at a time.
Poor girl. His stomach tightened with guilt. He did this to her. And it couldn’t be undone.
“What is your name?” he asked. A simple way to begin.
“You know,” she said, his voice, his face surfacing form her memory. And fear. He recognized the fear she had felt the last time they met. Well, at least she could remember that.
“Yes, I do, but I would like to be certain that you do too.” A message from Polla appeared, pushing for his attention, but he ignored it.
“Hana Gosmun.” Her eyes flicked to his face to confirm, then to the ceiling. She clearly thought thank god.
“Very good,” he said, attempting to give her a semblance of privacy by not acknowledging that thought. “What day is it?”
Her mind flickered over memories of the past three days, her attention focusing on changes in light as though trying to separate the days from the nights. Finally she sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Well, let’s try something easier. What day did you arrive here?”
“Here this city, or here this place?” She waved her hand vaguely and her thoughts went to the room with restraints, the beeping monitor they had thankfully disconnected her from for the meeting.
“The city,” he said firmly. Better give her something that would be concrete.
Her face contorted in concentration as a sea of advertisements, event listings, and articles on the history of the Julian calendar clambered for her attention. A calendar flashed with a Thursday in the middle of the month highlighted. “August twenty-third.”
“Very good.” He smiled encouragingly. “And you’ve only been here three days, so that would make today…?”
“Sunday,” she said promptly.
“Exactly. It is August twenty-sixth.”
She nodded but he felt her slipping again. News footage, dancing cats, and more advertisements had taken over. She couldn’t even see him or the room, her eyes staring blankly, her occipital lobe inactive.
“Hana” he said four times before she looked at him. “What city is this?”
An encyclopedia article. Images of landmarks. Her own first view of the skyline. Restaurant recommendations. Tears were streaming from her eyes as she said, “Toronto.”
“Excellent.” He picked up the portable jammer. “I’m going to put this on your head, Hana. It will temporarily turn off your chip.”
“No. Just until we can figure out how to change your age in the settings.”
She stared at him confused and afraid, the tears on her cheeks reflecting the harsh light of the interrogation room. He stood and placed the jammer on her head, securing the straps under her chin and around her ears. She winced as it pinched the incision site. He flicked the switch to turn the jammer on and she sighed in relief.
An error message flashed through his mind. Error: connection lost. Disconnect, he thought and the message disappeared.
Returning his focus to Hana, he saw that she had leaned back in the uncomfortable metal chair and her eyes were closed, tears still flowing.
“As I was saying, we need to figure out how to essentially deceive –“
“Can I be alone for a little while?” She interrupted him as though she didn’t realize he was talking. “I haven’t been alone in a long time.”
He hesitated. He wasn’t certain it was safe to leave her in her current state. But his guilt won over and he nodded. “Yes. I will come back later.”
She was lost in oblivion as he left, locking the door behind him. He waived to a nurse who bustled over, loathing written across her face. The entire hospital staff knew it was his fault.
“Hana would like to be alone for some time,” he said. “Could you keep an eye on her until I come back?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Ms. Ganger’s looking for you.”
“Yes, thank you,” he sighed and proceeded down the hall, past the nurses’ station where they all pointedly ignored him.
Call Polla Ganger, he thought. Polla’s face immediately appeared in his mind’s eye.
“Tom,” she said, annoyance written across her face, “I messaged you half an hour ago.”
“Sorry, Polla, I was interviewing her.”
“With a jammer.”
Polla sighed. “Well we can’t use that forever. I talked to Dr. Sanjesh and she said that replacing the girl’s chip with one of the transition models would be extremely risky. The chip is probably already too integrated into her synapses for it to be removed without damaging the surrounding tissue.”
“So reprogramming the chip really is the only option?” Even though he knew it was highly unlikely, he had still been holding on to the hope that they would be able to make the switch.
“Looks like it. The programmer is testing it now with some macaques or something – some type of monkey, and he thinks he’ll be ready to do the modification tomorrow morning. I’ll be coming for the procedure, and the governor might be there as well.”
He halted. “The governor knows?”
“Someone tipped off a news site a couple hours ago. We had to brief the governor for damage control. He’ll be making a statement soon.”
He stared at the checkered pattern of the floor tiles, heart pounding.
“Relax, Tom,” she said and he felt a wave of calm spread over him. Few people in the world knew how to manipulate someone else’s chip to modulate neurotransmitters. Most doctors had to use special equipment to do it. But Polla was one of the few. You had to be that good to become a governor’s Secretary of Security.
“You won’t lose your job over this,” she continued. “You made a mistake. It happens. We all do it from time to time. The important thing is to ensure that it won’t happen again.” She paused, then added, “ We all know how terrible you feel.”
“Yeah,” he nodded and started walking again, now with the intent of getting some coffee from the cafeteria. Whatever hormone Polla had triggered had made him sleepy.
“Why don’t you take the night off. We can’t do anything more for her until tomorrow.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to think about anything else all night, but sure. Can – can she keep the jammer on over night?”
Polla pursed her lips. “She’s a runaway risk, even with the restraints.”
“You don’t want her to be clear headed?”
Polla sighed. “The reporters would have a field day with that. I’ll talk to Dr. Sanjesh about inducing a coma. Go home, Tom. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow,” he replied and thought, End call.
Staring down the hallway at the endless river of checkered tiles, he decided he really did need that coffee before attempting the drive home.
It was only mid-afternoon, so the cafeteria was relatively empty. A few doctors and nurses were eating oddly timed lunches, and most people in the food lines carried their purchases off to other parts of the hospital rather than stay to eat.
He bought a large coffee and sank into a chair, feeling the warmth of the cup in his hand rather than drink it.
After a few minutes an alert flashed across his mind. Statement from the governor of Canada in 5…4…3…2…1.
“Good afternoon, my fellow Canadians,” the governor said, his expression grave with a hint of sadness. He had a knack for adopting the perfect affect for every situation. “I come to you with sad but not hopeless news. It has been brought to my attention that last Thursday in Toronto a woman was arrested who lacked an interface chip. Though she had grown up in a technophobic community, she was not hostile and agreed to have a chip implanted as part of her assimilation.
“As such a situation is so rare, there was no standard procedure in place and without the appropriate guidance the security officer handling her case ordered a standard chip be implanted rather than the transitional type used when the technology was introduced almost a century ago. The mistake was understandable as few people remember the antiquated technology exists and most hospitals do not stock them.”
The governor paused and sighed dramatically, his face contorted with regret. “Unfortunately, the chip immediately recognized the woman as an adult and went into full functionality. Without the years of functional build-up and opportunities to progressively learn how to control a chip that children today benefit from, the woman’s frontal lobe was overloaded and she had to be hospitalized. She is now being treated at a hospital in Ottawa where some of the most talented doctors and programmers in the state of Canada are working to find a way to reprogram her chip. Though the situation is serious, we hope to have a solution ready for tomorrow so that this woman can get back to living a full and rich life in this golden age of technology. I invite you to keep her in your thoughts and prayers as we ready for this procedure. Have a good evening, Canada, and God bless.”
The broadcast ended and he was alone with his thoughts again. At least the governor hadn’t mentioned him by name. Some reporter would be able to dig it up- the nurses would be all too happy to oblige – but he had at least a few hours before the hate emails began to pour in.
He sipped at his coffee for a long time, replaying the day he had met Hana over and over again.
Monday arrived slowly. He didn’t sleep at all that night, and when he arrived at the hospital, Polla greeted him with, “You look like hell, Tom.”
He gave her a weak smile and said, “I’ll be fine once this is over.”
Hana looked peaceful in her induced coma. Dr. Sanjesh was fiddling with Hana’s monitor. He guessed she was adjusting the settings to wake Hana up, but he didn’t know enough about medicine to be sure. He vaguely wondered if he ought to suggest that as an area of professional development for their department.
A hubbub at the entrance to the unit announced the arrival of the governor and his security detail, followed closely by a reporter and camera operator. The governor greeted Polla and him warmly, speaking perfunctorily about how he wished they could see each other under happier circumstances. Never mind the fact that they had biweekly meetings with him. The reporter and camera operator were following the governor around, recording everything he said. The governor seemed to ignore them but moved on to speak with Dr. Sanjesh, a perfect footage opportunity.
He watched Hana’s heart monitor, mesmerized by the rhythm of the spikes.
“They’ll be starting in a minute,” Polla eventually said.
“Hmm… oh, right,” he replied, turning his attention to Dr. Sanjesh and the governor, who had finished their conversation and were getting into camera-ready positions.
“Good morning, everyone,” the governor said in a voice that rang throughout the small hospital room. “Mr. Timons,” he waived toward a man standing by the door who was clearly out of his element, “the primary software engineer at Canada’s branch of Intertech Industries, will now reprogram Miss Gosmun’s chip, and then Dr. Sanjesh,” the doctor nodded to the camera, “will wake her up. Soon this ordeal will be over for Miss Gosmun and all of Canada.”
He really shouldn’t have promised it will work, he thought. Macaques aren’t people.
There was light applause and the engineer walked over to Hana’s bed looking irritated. He took out a small tablet and began typing and clicking on menu items.
“Mr. Timons,” the reporter narrated in a hushed voice, “is adjusting Miss Gosmun’s chip to believe she is a small child. His team has been working day and night for the past three days to modify the interface program.”
The engineer gave her an annoyed look that she responded to with a challenging eyebrow cocked. Across the state of Canada, possibly the world, people were tuning in to watch the broadcast and he guessed watching an engineer install a program did not make for entertaining viewing.
The engineer finished soon after and looked relieved to be done. He nodded to Dr. Sanjesh and made his way back to the door while Dr. Sanjesh turned to the monitor. She flicked a switch and the monitor gave a loud beep. Hana’s heart rate immediately sped up on the display.
“She will be conscious any moment now,” Dr. Sanjesh said to the camera. He admired her ability to play to the audience. This was the typical stunt that put someone on the short list for surgeon general.
There was a pause and then Hana opened her eyes and looked around the room, breathing heavily. She seemed confused, but more lucid than when he had interviewed her the day before.
“Where… am,” Hana said with a great deal of effort, and then she screamed.
And she didn’t stop screaming. Most people in the room backed away warily while Dr. Sanjesh began fussing with the monitor and the engineer walked back over looking tired.
“Every neuron in her frontal lobe is misfiring,” Dr. Sanjesh said to the engineer in a panicked voice.
He had to know what was going on in her mind. Connect: Hana Gosmun, he thought. Before he could get a glimpse of her mind a shock ran through is body, knocking him over. He sat on the floor, watching the pandemonium as Error: Connections Unavailable flashed through his mind.
“Tom, even if I could erase the past week from your memory, I wouldn’t.”
He sat on the department therapists’ couch hunched over, staring at his hands. His hands that had signed the order. “But I just can’t take this guilt. It’s too much. I destroyed a girl.”
“Which is exactly why you should keep the memory. You need to use this to motivate changes in how your department operated and the protocols for this type of situation. Besides, even if you forget, everyone else will remember. Memory loss is very disorienting. You’ll have conversations you don’t understand. People will refer to events you don’t know happened. You’ll just be replacing one source of distress with another.”
“How can I live with this?” he asked helplessly.
She gave him an assessing look and nodded. “No, I don’ think you can live with your guilt. Not as it is now.”
She rose and walked over to the cabinet behind her desk. “We can remove your emotions from the memory. Isolate and eliminate them so you will remember the facts without the pain.”
“Yes, please,” he said. His eyes were stinging but he pushed the feeling back.
She removed a device that looked similar to a portable jammer from the cabinet. “This is a limbic system modifier. It will probably take about one hour to run. I will come back when it is finished.”
She placed the modifier on his head, securing the straps under his chain and around his ears. She flicked the switch to turn it on and he sighed in relief.
He leaned back and closed his eyes, tears flowing.
I wrote this story back in 2013, inspired by the simultaneous announcement of Google Glass and that Harvard had created a brain-to-brain interface for mice. How might those two technologies interact? The unanimous feedback from my writing group was that the story needed a lot more work, but I have never been able to figure out how to fix it. So here it is in all its confusing chaos.