Errol held the vial up to the light. He imagined he could see it sparkling with potential. The possibility was there, even if it couldn’t be seen. Yesterday, he fired one of the most brilliant men he had ever met for attempting to do what Errol planned for today. Errol had the money and the foresight, they had the brains. The others were too valuable to risk, whereas he had nothing to lose.

The blue fluid flowed into the saline infuser. There was still time to turn back. In the best case scenario, he was looking at terrible days ahead. It was better than the worst case: death.

Peering around the lab, Errol’s nerves were on edge. There was no one there. It was a holiday and he had given the day off to the entire scientific team. He forced them to take some time and rest. So many of them were driven, single-minded workaholics. Those traits were key to being good at what they did, accomplishing so much in so short a time. Sadly, none of them could watch what he was doing. Errol had to protect them from the consequences, failure or success each carried its own burden.

Starting his own I.V. was the hardest part. He had never liked the sight of blood – especially his own. On the third try, he found a vein. The infuser beside him waited for his orders. He had a choice. It was not too late to walk away and forget about it. Walking away was not really a choice he could live with. Literally.

“Damn their narrow vision. To hell with the rules!” he said to the empty room and hit the red button. “Why is it always a red button?”

The slow infuser began. Drip. Drip. Drip.

Politicians and petty bureaucrats had stonewalled human 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 able to grease the slowly grinding wheels of change. When you transform 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.

Drip. Drip.

As annoying as the simple-minded paper pushers were, liver cancer was worse. Errol told no one about the diagnosis. His wife and son were in the dark about the real reasons for his drive to achieve the unachievable. 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 a year away. That was eight months longer than he had.

Drip. Drip.

“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. Beep.

Errol was startled by the sound. He looked at the screen.

[Infusion complete. Awaiting activation code.]

He had a moment’s hesitation. What if this failed? What if he died? What if it worked?!

The activation code was not hard to guess. He typed: Tarha_Micah. His finger hovered over the enter key. “Here goes everything,” he announced to the empty lab as he dramatically tapped the key. Then he shook his head while thinking, “Way too cheesy. If this works, I’ll have to tell people I said something better like “One small step for man, one tiny leap for mankind.” He nodded to himself. That was better.

The computer made no noise as it did two things. First, it sent emails to Tarha and Micah, his wife and son. The emails 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 apologize for the rest of his life, however long he had. If he died, they would still be well-off thanks to his investments and the company he was leaving behind.

The second thing it did would change Errol’s world forever. The vial of blue liquid contained microscopic robots. They were smaller than anything that had come before. Nanotechnology had been around since the 2020’s. The changes in the past thirty years had been amazing. This was the next step. They were ten times smaller than anything that had come before so one of the nerdiest of the geniuses who worked for him dubbed them picobots. The name stuck. Now there were ten thousand of those tiny pieces of technology in his bloodstream, programmed to search for diseases and wipe them out. When Errol hit enter, they woke up.

The computer screen next to him showed their progress.

[Scanning for disease]

[Cancer detected in liver]

[Initiating eradication procedure]

A percentage bar moved very slowly for forty-five minutes.

[Cancer deleted in liver]

[Scanning for disease]

[Cancer detected in bone marrow]

[Initiating eradication procedure]

Again the percentage bar moved slowly for thirty minutes this time.

[Cancer deleted in bone marrow]

[Scanning for disease]

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 the screen to tell him all was clear, his hand floating near the kill button. He was ready to destroy them if needed.

[Anomalous reading]

[Body deterioration detected]

[Adaptation of protocols required]

[Proceeding with adaptation]

Errol’s mind raced. “Body deterioration? What does that mean?” That was his last thought before the debilitating pain racked his body. He bent over, involuntarily holding his stomach. Through tear-filled eyes, he looked at the screen.

[Using fat cells within subject to repair damage]

Errol reached for the keyboard but the pain was beyond anything he had ever known. The ESC key would stop them. He lost consciousness reaching for it.

“What did you do?” demanded a voice. It sounded far away. “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?” asked Micah, his voice was quivering.

“I had to use them,” explained Errol. “They were my last resort.” He looked at the screen.

[Final scan results: No cancer found. Body deterioration repaired. Picobots deactivating]

“It worked!” declared Errol. His smile faded. “Something is different.”

“Dad, look at yourself.”

The fifty-four year-old man stared into the mirror. A twenty-one-year-old stared back.

Copyright 2015 by Doug Romig


Next: PicoTech – Awakening