Air hissed as his ears popped. Errol would never get used to the sterility of a laboratory. So clean. So tidy. So boring. The pressure levelize as he stepped into the clean room, his white coveralls leaving only his aging face visible as he glanced around the room. Even without another soul present, the lab still hummed with the unmistakable sound of mechanical life. Monitors showed the power of Errol’s supercomputer working out monumental calculations. Machines glowed with artificial life as automated creation continued all day and all night. The entire facility cost a small fortune to create and another fortune was spent on the unending research.
Errol was the money man, not one of the science geeks. With money and vision, he paid well for the brain-trust which could make his dream come to fruition. The dream? Perhaps a nightmare? He hoped for the former but feared the latter. Today he would discover which one. Dream or nightmare, his life would change forever.
Approaching the glass doored refrigeration unit, he examined the trays of test tubes. Choosing the one labeled P.T. 865, he grinned like he had as a child sneaking a cookie from the jar in his mother’s kitchen. Eight hundred and sixty-four failures were too many to his business-oriented mind. When he examined the statistics of scientific achievement, that was an infinitesimal number of tries for what was accomplished. It spoke well of his scientists. They had done well.
Holding a vial up to the light, he imagined he could see it sparkling with so much potential. Squinting at the blue fluid, he strove to see what he knew could never be found with the naked eye. He chuckled at the folly.
In the center of the lab sat a cylindrical room made of a too-thick, clear plastic. To enter, another airlock waited for Errol. He stepped into the space and stripped down to a skin-tight body suit embedded with thousands of sensors. The sensor suit was tighter than he expected and not very flattering for a middle aged man. He sighed to himself as he saw himself on the monitors.
“CAM, are we ready?” asked Errol.
A perfect facsimile of a human voice replied, “Yes, Mr. Casmack. All calculations are complete. The chance of success is 82.39%.”
Errol smiled. “That’s up from last night. What changed?”
The Casmack Artificial Mind, programmed with synthetic emotions, echoed with pride. “I discovered a subroutine with new lines of code which increased the chance from 77.07% to 82.39%. Dr. Murai and Dr. Jennings both worked on it at different times. They deserve raises.”
“If this works,” Errol replied, “Make sure I give them both bonuses.”
“Of course, sir.” The computer paused for effect. “Mr. Casmack, are you certain you want to proceed? According to the schedule, in six-weeks everything will be optimal for a test on a small mammal. Within another six-months, human testing may be possible.”
Another hiss popped his ears as Errol stepped through the airlock and into the circular room. A week before, he fired one of the most brilliant men he knew for attempting what he planned for today. The others were too valuable to risk. He had nothing left to lose. He placed four vials into four receptacles designed for them.
“CAM, run a scan on my vitals, please.”
The bodysuit sensors glowed as they activated and warmed him. “The cancer cells are replicating at an exponential rate. Your liver cannot survive more than ninety-three more days without extreme measures. The spread of cells has increased into the bone marrow, kidneys, lymphatic system…”
“So it’s everywhere now, right?” interrupted Casmack. “Still think I should wait?”
“Your analysis is not completely correct. I estimate it will reach 92% of your body systems including your brain within fourteen days. Also, I’m detecting sarcasm in your question,” replied the computer.
“You’re right about the sarcasm. Begin video recording the procedure. Upload backup copies to my secure servers. Prepare the chair,” ordered Errol.
In the center of the round room a large lounge chair rotated on a dais. Errol slipped onto the white cushions as the chair adjusted for his height and width. He fastened belts around his chest, abdomen and legs. He attached four small tubes to the sensor suit and placed his arms through the bands built into the arms of the chair.
“This thing creeps me out,” he said.
“You helped design it,” replied the computer.
“Why did they program you with an attitude?” snapped the human. “Secure me”
The bands tightened around Errol securing him without causing pain.
“Start the I.V.s”
Four spots with the tube attached on the sensor suit inserted needles into the veins of their subject. Casmack flinched at the pain. He never liked the sight of blood – especially his own. Fortunately, the suit absorbed any excess blood from the injections.
Blue fluid flowed into four ports of the saline infuser and waited.
CAM tried to reason with the human a final time. “There is still time to turn back. In the best case scenario, you are looking at terrible days ahead.”
“The worst case scenario is death,” replied Errol.
Peering around the empty lab, his nerves were on edge. Sadly, none of the scientists could watch what he was doing. Casmack had to protect them from the consequences. Failure or success each carried its own burden.
“Let’s make some history, CAM. Initiate infusion.”
The infuser began. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Politicians and petty bureaucrats had stonewalled all testing for five years. Ethicists and theologians debated the potential, the good and evil this new technology represented. Even the great Errol Casmack’s influence, charm and money had not been enough to grease the slow grinding wheels of change. When anyone transforms what it means to be human it tends to ruffle a few feathers. Enough was enough. He didn’t have time for them to posture and pontificate.
The simple-minded paper pushers were exasperating. His cancer was worse. Errol told no one of the diagnosis. His wife and son were in the dark about the real reasons for his drive to achieve the impossible. The men and women working day and night on this project saw him as a passionate visionary – not a desperate dying man. Only the face reflected back at him each morning knew the truth. Human trials were still half a year away. That was two months longer than he could wait. After that, he would be bedridden and lose any trace of dignity he still possessed. That would not happen.
“What are they going to do?” Errol thought to himself. “Put me in prison if it fails? It’ll be a short stay.”
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Lost in his thoughts, Errol was startled by the voice of CAM.
“Infusion complete. Awaiting activation code.”
He hesitated for a moment. “What if this failed? What if he died? What if it worked?!” Shaking it off, he said. “Activate voice recognition.”
CAM replied, “Voice recognition activated. Please state your full time for access.”
“Errol Micah Casmack”
The computer replied, “Voice print accepted. What is the activation phrase?”
“I love Tarha and Michah,” answered Errol.
“Activation phrase accepted. Awaiting final code phrase to activate.”
“PicoTech engage,” he dramatically replied to the empty lab,
“Procedure activated. Stand by.”
“Here goes everything,” he announced. Then he shook his head while thinking, “Way too cheesy. If this works, I’ll edit the video to say something better like: One small step for man, one tiny leap for mankind.” He nodded to himself. That was better.
“CAM, send the messages.”
CAM sent videos of Errol to Tarha and Micah, his wife and son. In each video he detailed what he had done and explained why. Both would be angry at him for keeping his illness from them. If he lived through this, he would spend the rest of his life making amends, however long he had. If he died, they would still be well off thanks to his investments and the company he was leaving behind and would be spared the pain of his slow death.
The vials of blue liquid contained microscopic robots. They were smaller than anything that had come before. Nanotechnology came into reality in the 2020’s. The improvements in the past thirty years were phenomenal. This was the next step. These were ten times smaller than anything that had come before so one the biggest, nerdy geniuses who worked for him dubbed them PicoTech. The name stuck. Now there were forty thousand of those tiny pieces of technology in his bloodstream, programmed to search for diseases and wipe them out.
The computer screen next to him showed their progress as CAM gave him a running commentary.
“PicoTech scanning for disease.” The computer voice remained silent as the screen showed thousands of glowing dots moving through Errol’s body. The scanner showed most of them congregating in his liver.
“Cancerous cells detected in the subject’s liver. Initiating eradication procedure.”
The screen glowed red with cancer cells and blue with picobots. Fourteen minutes later, all the red was gone as the blue dots dispersed into his body.
“Liver is clear of cancer cells. Continuing scan for disease.”
Again the blue dots on the screen began joining together in another part of his body.
“Cancer detected in bone marrow. Initiating eradication procedure.”
Again the screen showed red and blue dots battling. Twenty minutes later, the red dots were defeated..
“Cancer deleted in bone marrow. Scanning for disease.”
For three hours, the reports of cancer became fewer and fewer. Each time, the picbots eliminated all traces of cancer in Errol’s body.
Finally, there was a long pause. It was so long that Errol noticed he was holding his breath in anticipation. “Was it done?” He waited for CAM to give him the all clear message.
CAM’s voice filled the room. “Anomalous reading. Body deterioration detected. Adaptation of protocols required. Proceeding with adaptation from new algorithms.”
Errol’s mind raced. “Body deterioration? What does that mean?” That was his last thought before the debilitating pain racked his body. Through tear-filled eyes he squinted at the screen.
“Using adipocytes within the subject to repair damage. Sedation necessary to prevent stress-induced cardiac arrest.”
“Cardiac what…?” Errol tried to ask before losing consciousness.
“Initiating awakening procedure,” said the far away voice of CAM.
“What did you do?” demanded a hazy voice. “Dad, talk to me!”
Errol opened his eyes to see his son, a terrified look on his face. “Did it work?”
“What happened to you?” demanded Micah with a quivering voice.
“I had to use them,” explained Errol. “They were my last resort. CAM, report. What the hell happened?” He looked at the screen.
“Final scan results: No cancer found. Body deterioration repaired. Picobots have deactivated.” CAM paused again. “The procedure was an unqualified success.”
“It worked, son!” declared Errol. His smile faded. “Something is different.”
“Dad, look at yourself!” shouted Micah.
The fifty-five year old man stared into the mirror. A twenty-one year old stared back.
Copyright 2023 by Doug Romig
Next: PicoTech – Awakening