Micah slowly opened his eyes and looked around. The walls of pale blue and the holographic full-body imager could only mean one thing. He was in a hospital room. What had happened? The last thing he remembered was riding his vintage Tesla 2030 electracycle through the restored Smoky Mountain Game Preserve. It had been warm. No, it was hot. Blisteringly hot on the whitetop. He remembered some kind of truck had been on the road that was for cars and bikes only.
“Oh, damn! I had a wreck! I hope the driver got caught,” thought Micah.
“He’s waking up,” came a voice beside him. “Just relax, Mikey. You’re going to be all right. But I have to say it: I told you that bike would get you hurt.”
Micah looked at the air-chair beside him. “Hi Dad,” he croaked. His voice sounded horrible and his throat felt even worse. His father placed a straw in his mouth, he took a sip to discover apple-flavored vitawater. He took another tentative sip. Trying his voice again, he asked, “How bad is it?” The voice sounded a little better, but not much. He reached up and felt his throat for bandages or biotech. Nothing there.
Errol Casmack took a deep breath, steadying himself before saying what he had to say. “Son, it was very bad. You almost died. Well, technically you did code three times. But the surgeons were able to save you and give you time to heal.”
Micah looked at his father. He knew that tone of voice. His dad only sounded like that when there was bad news. He began to take inventory. Both arms were still there. No tubes sticking out of them. He felt his torso for wounds. Nothing wrong. “Oh, God! It’s my legs!” he thought. He tried to move his legs and the covers moved. He looked under the sheets to see his legs looking perfectly healthy. Something his dad said finally clicked. Time to heal.
“How much time to heal?” asked Micah, his voice still sounded like hell.
“Mikey, you need to take this slow. You were in a coma for a while,” replied Errol, not wanting to alarm his son. “The damage to your body was… extensive.”
Micah looked at his hands. They were fine. Too fine, in fact. Perfectly healthy legs? “Reflection!” demanded the man.
“Micah, we really need to…” began his father.
“Give me the damned reflector, Dad!” shouted the son. Errol handed him an e-pad. It activated at his touch and instantly showed his face through the microcams in the device. He looked perfect. Not a scratch. Not a scar. Not even any lines. No lines! He glared at his father. “I told you no! Never! I would have rather died!” He was getting manic, nearly frenzied.
“You need to rest now,” said Errol.
With those words, Micah went straight into a deep sleep.
“Hello, Micah. I am your InnerLink. Would you like to name me?” asked a voice in his unconscious mind.
“Hell no! I want you out of my head. Deactivate.” Micah knew how this worked. Even though he had never had one, he knew the InnerLink could do nothing without his permission and it had to follow orders. Right now he wanted that damned computer out of his head and out of his body.
“Micah, deactivating without explaining the consequences would violate my programming to do no harm. I will update you on your status and the consequences. If at that time you wish me to deactivate, I will acquiesce to your wishes.” The voice was maddeningly soothing to Micah.
“Is there any other way to get you to deactivate?” asked Micah. He knew all about the I.L.s. Or he thought he did.
“I’m afraid not. Relax. You may enjoy this experience.”
Micah wasn’t going to fall for that. “Not going to happen. So I.L., am I asleep or awake?”
An image of himself in bed appeared in his mind. “You are out cold. Your mind is in a dream-state while your body rests. Think of it as lucid dreaming with a computer guide,” said the InnerLink. It almost sounded like it was happy.
Micah had a few more questions. “And who else is in here with me?” He didn’t trust anything that could mess with his head.
“No one can join your Link without your expressed permission now that you are out of your coma. Your father deactivated all of the ExtraLink as soon as you woke up. You and I are the only ones in here.” The I.L. sounded way too calm and peaceful for Micah’s taste. He was not a calm kind of guy.
“Update me so I can get you out of my head,” ordered the man. There was nothing this thing could say that would convince him that a computer inside him was a good thing.
“Well, Mike. Actually, I’m all over your body. InnerLinks have changed a lot while you were out. I’m a network of 1,123,004,904 picobots throughout your body. You have bonus bots due to your injuries. Most people have right at a billion. You need several million more to keep you going.”
Micah was confused. “Wait. How long was I out?” This made no sense. Unless…
“Today is May 23rd, 2074. You were in a coma for fifteen years, two months and three days. Per your written wishes, no PicoTech was used to repair your injuries until two months ago. A new law was passed in 2072 allowing a family to override the wishes of the individual if the use of picotechnology has shown to be beneficial and the individual has no knowledge of the new technology. It is commonly known as Micah’s Law. You caused quite a stir. Two years of court battles followed. Your mother finally won the right to have this done over your father’s objections.”
Micah sighed in his mind. “That figures. Go on. How bad was I hurt?”
“Are you sure you want to see the pictures? I have them saved for you, but they are disturbing.” The I.L. seemed to be concerned.
It’s amazing how well they can program these things. “Just show me,” said Micah. The first image in his mind was the mangled remains of his bike. He felt worse for the electracycle than he did about his body. Restoring it had cost him twenty thousand dollars. It was a shame. Next came a video that was more shocking. His body was being loaded onto a stretcher while paramedics stopped bleeding all over his battered body. Both his legs were beside him in cryo-containers. The stumps where his legs had been were covered with metal caps designed to stop the flow of blood while keeping the tissue alive. Micah was glad he was already asleep or that would have made him pass out.
The next series of images showed him following each of the three surgeries. A picture of Micah’s body was in his mind, legless and wrapped in bandages. The I.L. narrated, “The first surgery took fourteen hours and was able to repair your internal injuries. The spinal cord took seven of those hours. I can show you the video of the procedure if you would like. The cyber-mech and micro-lasers used by the surgeon were cutting edge at the time. In fact, it is now in common use thanks to your injury.”
Micah replied quickly, “No. That pic is good enough.”
The next picture showed a one-legged Micah in a recovery salon, tubes going out of every orifice. “The second surgery reattached your left leg. Your right leg was not salvageable as it was.” A new series of pictures showed a cylinder with an orange fluid and mechanical arms that were assembling cells, a completed leg floating in the same fluid, and then Micah with both legs. “The new right leg was cloned from the old one. After it was grown and tested, it was attached six months later.”
Micah scanned over the pics and vid again. “It looks like they got me patched up without your help, I.L. Why the hell did Mom want you in me? The coma?”
“I’m afraid so. You see, there was substantial brain damage. Your mind was still in there, but there was no way to get to you. Your mother told the doctors to inject the picobots, but your father got an injunction saying you would rather die than have that done.”
Micah smiled in his mind. “Good old Dad. Gotta love him.”
“I am bridging the gap in your brain. In time I can repair the damage and allow you to function without I.L. support. Repairing brain damage is still in initial trial stages. In fact, you are the first to be brought this far without complications.”
“Complications? Is that a nice way of saying ‘dead’?”
There was a pause before the I.L. answered. “Are you sure you want to know? Death was not the only complication.”
Micah was ready for this. He knew there had to be some kind of catch. “Lay it on me. Did you turn a brain into sludge? Take over? Make them dance the hokey pokey?”
“Everything but the hokey pokey. There were two instances where the brain damage was too severe. One family demanded an I.L. activation to allow them to say goodbye to a virtual sim of their daughter through I.L. control. That crime resulted in cyber-sentencing of five years for each of the parties, plus a deactivation and destruction of the I.L., resulting in the end of life for the patient.
“The second occurrence – as you so colorfully described – turned a man’s brain into sludge. An attempt to reconnect through the same kind of bridge I am using with you resulted in a bio-electric shock that damaged the higher brain functions. Since then, pico-brain surgery has been upgraded and updated. The picobots in your brain use a type of focal brain stimulation that has very limited power.”
“But you are working on rebuilding the pathways that are damaged?” asked a curious Micah.
“Yes. It is a slow process. But until that happens, you have two choices. Choice one: I leave your body and deactivate leaving you as a turnip with arms and legs. Sound fun?”
Micah just noticed the attitude of the I.L. was changing. “You are a sarcastic bunch of little bastards, aren’t you?”
For some reason, Micah got the impression that the I.L. was smiling. “It is part of the bonding process. The longer I am in your system, the more of your personality I pick up. Give me time and I’ll be as much of a cynical, smartass as you are.” The I.L. continued, “Choice two: I stay in your body and you can have a life like you never thought possible. You have no idea what I can do for you.”
Micah thought long and hard. He had always hated the idea of tiny robots in his body, doing God knows what, controlled by God knows who. The thought of being a prisoner in his own mind was just as bad. After a prolonged internal debate, he concluded he would keep them until they healed his brain. After that they were history.
“How long until you fix my brain?” he asked before making any deals.
The I.L. was ready. “The damaged brain cells can be replicated and replaced in eighteen weeks. It will require daily resource injections into feeder cells. Your father has already made arrangements for the surgery in the event you decided to keep me around for a while.”
“How do I wake up from this dream?” asked Micah. His eyes opened to see his father still seated beside him.
“Okay, Dad. Here’s the deal. I’ll keep these things in me until they fix my brain. Then they are toast. And no turning on the ExtraLink.”
His father looked shocked. “I was ready to say goodbye all over again. You sure about this?”
“Well unless my new pet has been manipulating my mind, yes.” Micah was not convinced this thing inside him was as altruistic as it seemed.
“I’m only as altruistic as you want me to be, Mike,” said the voice in his head.
“Okay, that is disturbing. Do you hear voices in your head, too?” he asked his father.
Errol laughed. “Only in my sleep. But I think that is your mother whispering to me. Well, it used to be.” There was a sad smile on his father’s face.
“You didn’t renew the contract?” Errol shook his head. “Because of all this?” His father broke eye contact. “I’m so sorry, Dad. I feel terrible.”
“Son, we renewed our marriage contract eight times,” sighed the older man. “It’s better than most people do.”
Micah nodded. “Neither of my marriages renewed after the first six years. You did good.” The younger Casmack stood up, trying out his new leg. “They did a good job on the gams. Hydrotherapy for muscle tone?”
“The first seven years they did. After that, there was a new therapy that stimulates the nerves to make your muscles work.” The older Casmack chuckled. “It was damned eerie seeing you on a total-body stim while you weren’t really there.” Then he stopped smiling. “When the picobots were injected, they took over body maintenance. You are in the best shape of your life. I’m sorry about the anti-aging. You mother insisted that stay activated. You know how she gets about her son looking older than she does.”
Micah smiled. “Well, at least they didn’t make me look any younger. Looking twenty-five at forty-eight is bad enough. I’m surprised she didn’t make them take me down to eighteen, again.” Errol looked at the ceiling, the walls, the floors, anywhere but at his son. “She didn’t?”
“Well, she tried. Fortunately, I was able to limit it to twenty-five. She still hates it that you look older.” Errol looked amused. The father looked to be in his thirties even though he was seventy-nine. “You have to admit, it feels pretty good not having the aches and pains of middle age.”
“I wouldn’t know. I was thirty-three last time I remembered.” He tried to make it a joke, but only sounded bitter.
“Excuse me, Mike. I can activate the ExtraComm without any of the other data. Would you like Vox, Mentatext, and ThoughtShare? I feel certain that VirtuaCosmos is off limits since that is serious ExtraLink.” The I.L. was being very helpful.
“Hold on, I.L. Dad, what the hell is ThoughtShare?” asked Micah.
His father looked confused. “It’s a way to share thoughts directly with someone else. Think of it as leaving a message with your mind.” He looked at his son carefully. “Is your I.L. initiating a conversation with you while you’re awake?”
“Most I.L.s cannot access the conscious minds of others. As I am bridging the gap in yours, I can speak to you,” explained the I.L.
“Yeah, it is. It says it is because it is bridging the gap that keeps me awake,” explained Micah.
Errol looked thoughtful. “That was not one of the potential issues the doctors expected. You may want to keep your comms off the Cosmos. A lot of people want to talk to you about all this. I’m not sure you’re ready for the storm of attention you are about to enter.”
Micah contemplated that while putting on a blue one-suit. “I’m sure I’m not. Let’s walk a little. I want to see what all I have missed.” Then he added, “I.L., go ahead and turn on my ExtraComm but keep me silent. I don’t want anyone trying to call before I want them to.”
“No problem. You have a message from Tarha Casmack. Do you want to receive it?” asked the I.L.
Micah looked at his father and said, “Dad, can I have a moment?”
The older man smiled. “Message from Tarha? Enjoy. I’m glad she hardly ever comms me anymore.”
As soon as Errol was out of the room, Micah said, “Okay, I.L. Let’s hear it.”
“It is a ThoughtShare. I think I should warn you, these can be intense. It will share her emotions, too. Let’s hope she’s not PMSing.” The I.L. sounded like it was enjoying teasing him.
Micah didn’t want to laugh but couldn’t help it. “Just play the damned message, ILL.”
“Is that really going to be my name? ILL? Really? You’re the one who is sick,” joked the computer. “Playing ThoughtShare.”
A rush of emotions filled Micah. Sadness, sorrow, anger, pain, hope, and joy. Yes, this was definitely Mom. An image of a blonde, twenty-one-year-old beauty filled his mind. Tarha was smiling at her son. “Hey, Micah. It’s Tarha!” She always insisted on him calling her by her first name. She hated anything that made her feel old. An emotion of sadness flowed as she continued, “I know you’re pissed at me right now, but you have to understand.” She switched to a baby-talk voice. “My baby was broken and I had to fix him.” Micah hated it when she talked like that. She was eighty and acted eight. An emotion of jealousy flooded through, “I hope Errol didn’t say too many nasty things about me. I only did what I thought was best for you, Mikey.” He knew better than that. She did it for herself. Now, all her friends would want to say hello to the new and improved Micah thanks to Tarha’s actions. She would ham it up and play the martyr who made her son an enemy to save him. “Chat me when you get this. I need to know you’re not getting too glued to your pissed-off at me.” Then she was gone.
Leave it to Tarha to throw a new phrase in there. Glued to my pissed-off? thought Micah.
“She is something else, isn’t she?” asked ILL. “The message is requesting acknowledgment. You also have messages from GNN, CosmicClues, Quillos, and Ruska. They are all news organizations.”
“Acknowledge the guilt trip from Tarha. Delete the others. No calls right now. I’m going to take a walk.” Micah headed for the door.
“Mike, your energy level is low. You will wear down before you make it very far,” explained ILL. “In addition to your brain, you still have a few places that require maintenance. I can keep you healthy, but you need to eat something or get a transfer from someone else.”
Meeting Errol in the hall, Micah complained, “This damn thing is a nag. It says I need to eat or get some energy. Is there a Vegi-Serv around here somewhere?”
The young, old man laughed. “They’re called ProtPots now. They’ve come a long way while you were out. But let me help.” Errol took his hand. “Tell your I.L. to receive.”
“Receive?” asked younger Casmack.
“Receiving energy transfer,” acknowledged the computer within. “Transfer complete. Energy levels at seventy-two percent of maximum. Eighteen hours until we need to replenish.”
“That was weird,” said Micah. “What just happened?”
“The I.L. keeps track of the energy you need to keep everything functioning properly. If you want, we can add some energy storage cells when we have the material storage added.” Errol explained, “You will burn through more energy than most people. I always keep my levels at two-hundred percent in case you needed some. Excess power is stored in the power cells instead of fat cells. Ironically, power cells and storage cells are both stored in your butt cheeks. The man who thought of that has a bizarre sense of humor.”
Micah looked at his dad. “Your idea?” he asked, knowing the answer.
“It pissed-off your mom. Win-win for me.”
They walked around the small hospital. It only had fifty rooms for the city of two million. Few people needed medical care outside of traumatic injuries. Even those were becoming more and more uncommon. Only those who wished to remain outside the Link were ever sick. They paid a high price for the services of physicians. There were so few doctors left who could treat the common maladies. There was only one oncologist left in the United States since cancer had been cured during the first years of the picobots. The only people who died from cancer were the ones who refused to have the PicoTech.
The two men walked outside into a courtyard. The trees were spectacular in size and variety. They all looked healthy as did the array of flowers in eternal bloom. A small mechanical gardener disappeared into a storage closet as they approached. Micah was certain the flora was all picobot enhanced, leaving nothing to nature. It was really sad that everything from plants and animals to people were all being made too perfect.
As they walked through the garden, Micah asked the first question that came to his mind. “What happened while I was taking a nap? Did the PicoWar happen? It was building up to that.”
Errol nodded. “It took a while, but once the people passed the Political Pico Amendment, everything changed.”
“That went through? I figured the politicians would find a way to stop that?” Micah was astonished.
“Oh, they tried. In the end, the lawyers battled it out; but when you have a constitutional amendment, it makes it hard for the politicians to fight it. Now every person holding a public office has the picobot privacy mode deactivated. We know what all our politicians are doing every second of every day.” Errol stifled a laugh. “The only people who even try to hold office are the ones who really do it to serve others. Most are single for obvious reasons.”
“You’re telling me that all the senators can be watched? That has to be fun. How many are there now?”
“There are four hundred and fifty of them. Population is stable thanks to the picobots. The elections are always interesting. Debates are a thing of the past. Everyone knows where the candidates stand. Since we went to one house for Congress, it gets things done faster. Other countries are getting used to that, too.”
“Who is president now?” asked the newly awakened Casmack.
“Marta Castillo. She is doing a great job rebuilding the relationships with the countries that were hit hardest by the PicoWar. Some of them are still upset about the…” Errol’s voice faded.
“They weaponized them?” asked Micah, already knowing the answer.
His father didn’t respond directly. “They were getting ready to attack all the World-Wide Treaty Organization countries. Even you would have thought twice before fighting that. It was use the PicoTech or nukes. Picotech saved lives.”
“Is that how you sleep at night, Dad? Forcing technology on others to save them from themselves? Gee, who predicted that would happen? Oh yeah, me!” Micah was getting upset.
“Mike, your adrenaline levels are rising. Do you want me to lower them? This stress is not good for your brain injury.” The I.L. had a point.
“Please don’t get excited right now. You’re not that healthy yet,” his father echoed the words of the I.L.
Sighing, Micah agreed. “Okay. But this discussion is not over.” Immediately his body relaxed as ILL lowered his adrenaline level.
“It will never be over.” The older man stopped and sat on a bench. Micah joined him. “I’m glad you’re keeping the picobots. I’ve missed you, son.”
“It’s just for now, Dad. I know what you’re thinking, but I stand by what I’ve always said.” The look in his father’s eyes was more than he could take. “It’s not just a rebellious child thing. Well, not anymore. It is still something I believe with all my heart. And I’ve always agreed with using the picobots to heal. But what you have done goes too far. And with the PicoWar…” his voice trailed off as he remembered not to get too excited.
“It just hurts that my own son hates what I created,” lamented Errol. Rising to leave, he continued, “I respect you, but I don’t agree.”
Micah gave him a grim smile. “Some things never change.” He shook his father’s hand before returning to his room.
“Was that a normal interaction between you and your father?” asked the voice in Micah’s head.
“Well, it was more pleasant than some. We’ve had shouting matches about the ethics of … well… you,” said Micah. “Nothing personal.”
“I’m a bunch of pico-computers developing your personality. Not likely I’ll take it that way. I may start hating myself, but I’m sure there is an upgrade for that.” Micah laughed at the jest.
The next day, the two men met before the procedure to add power and storage for the picobots. The series of injections were painless and bloodless as the picobots received the energy and storage cells and placed them in the muscles of the gluteus maximus. Both men made the same jokes the doctors had heard thousands of times. They laughed for the Casmack men since this was Errol’s technology. It is always good to laugh with the boss.
After a large breakfast of protein enriched kelp, the men walked the streets of Boulder, enjoying the peace. High above, noiseless speed trains moved commuters to Denver for the work day on a magnetic hover-rail while vehicles of all shapes and sizes moved around them.
“You know, you may like the ExtraLink, son. It is not the evil empire you railed against twenty years ago.” Errol admitted, “It has its problems and a few people abuse it but look what the technology has done for you. The loss of some privacy has made for a better society.”
Micah knew how this conversation was going to go. They had argued this point so many times over the years. Micah was prepared for it this time. He had a new tactic.
“If I go into the Link one time, will you promise to never bother me about it again?” It was what his father had wanted to hear for decades. The look of total and complete shock was beautiful to Micah. Since words failed him. the stunned man simply nodded.
“ILL, prepare to open the ExtraLink. Level one only. I just want to see what it is like to see this street with the Link on.” He looked right at his father so Errol would be the first thing Micah saw when the Link went live. “Activate.”
“Link is active in five, four, three, two, one. Active.”
Micah still saw his father before him, but there was something extra. He had seen vids and pics of what it was like, but experiencing it first-hand was astonishing. The data about Errol Casmack as the CEO of PicoTech was overlayed on his field of vision. He could see as much as he wanted to know about his father. With a thought, an image of his home appeared next to him with the names and a stream of pics of all the staff working there and who was on duty right now. At a glance, he saw that his favorite maid from his youth was on a date with her second husband whose marriage contract was expiring in eight months. All of this flowed around everything he was seeing without interfering with his view. Around him was data about the restaurant across the street – it was having a special on sim-veal parmesan, the tailor next door – the suits had recently been found to be of lesser quality than the owner had claimed, and the name of the lost dog wandering the street – Pogo lived five blocks over. Micah sent a Mentatext to the owner, refusing the ten dollar reward that was offered.
“ILL, turn it off,” said Micah.
“ExtraLink in inactive mode,” reported the I.L.
“Well?” asked Errol. The hope in his eyes was obvious.
Micah hated admitting that his father may be right. Instead, he simply said, “Impressive tech. Thanks for the peek into your world.” His thoughts were far from that. He was glad his dad couldn’t see what he was thinking.
ILL spoke in his mind. “I can activate level two for you when you are ready.” The I.L. knew that was what he was thinking.
Ignoring the voice in his head, he walked on with his father, paying no attention to the disappointment on Errol’s face. The two men spent the morning exploring stores and enjoyed a meal together that filled both of their energy levels beyond the 100% needed to make it until evening. They chatted about all kinds of innocuous topics, never discussing the new experience of Micah. After lunch, Micah returned to his hospital room for one more night of observation.
“Thanks for a nice day, Dad. See you tomorrow?” asked Micah.
The disappointment was still etched in Errol’s face. “Of course. I’ll stop by and take you home at ten.” He left without another word.
Micah laid down in the bed that had been his home for most of the past fifteen years. “Okay, ILL. Let’s check out level two. Remind me to meet up with Dad in there after I’ve explored a bit.”
ILL sounded giddy. “Of course, Mike. Taking you all the way into the ExtraLink in five, four, three, two, one.”
Copyright 2014 by Doug Romig