“Yeah, a ping —it’s like an electronic echo.”
Drew explained, as his fingers weaved gracefully through his Gatsbian hair. “The ping tests the connection between the brain and computer: when I ping a brain and it pings back, I know the connection is good —cool, huh?”
Becca smiled politely as Drew swiped his ID card.
The lab’s mechanical door yawned open, revealing two liquid-filled tanks at the center of the room, each the size of large child. A brain was suspended in each tank, cocooned in countless hair-thin wires. Lights at the base gave the tanks a chilling green aura. Becca embraced the warmth of her coffee through her mittens and wondered how much of her Saturday this show-and-tell blind date would take.
“Placed those wires myself,” Drew said debonairly, patting the tank’s think glass as if it were Secretariat’s flank. “Sixteen hours of microsurgery per brain. You’d’ve liked this one,” he said, thumbing towards the tank on the left.
“The brain?” she asked squinting beneath the lamp.
“Well, you know, the donor —some pop-sci author turned history buff. During our interview, he went on about how he should have travelled instead of going to grad school. ‘If only I’d traveled more, I might’ve been the next Hemingway,’ he said.”
“Hemingway did write about his travels,” she said, tracing the web of wires from the ceiling to the brain’s surface. “Do you think he’s still in there?” she said, tapping the glass, “…like his consciousness or something?”
“Nah, it’s just a brain, like a huge computer. He’s long gone,” Drew said, typing in his control consol. “The other guy owned that used appliance store down the street.” Drew paused, chuckling to himself, “In the donor interview, I asked if his fridges were stolen. The guy just smiled and said, ‘You lookin’ta buy a fridge?’”
Pleased at how charming he was, Drew continued setting up his computer. “Ah, here we go. So I just flip this switch and…” Drew paused, pointing at a status bar, “…hit ‘Go!’”
The surgical light dimmed. The brains pulsed within their tanks. “Yes! Perf—” Drew exclaimed, cut off by the lab door slamming shut. Looking down, he saw his MatLab terminal buzz with activity, “What the hell? I didn’t write this.” He said, feverishly mashing esc. “Shit! Another hacker!”
“What do you mean ‘another’?” quizzed Becca through narrowed eyes, making quotation marks with her fingers.
“The first experiment. Someone hacked the server and downloaded Google Scholar and Google Books. Terabytes of data,” Drew recited, rubbing his forehead.
“Didn’t you tell someone? You know, like, call the NSA?” Becca said, staring at the author’s tank.
“We started to, but the same day, we received an anonymous donation to purchase state-of-the-art computers, satellite wireless and magnetic security doors for each room–$3mil worth. You see?” Drew said, swirling his finger around the room. “Kind of forgot about the hacker. Besides, we never found out were the files were saved. Probably just some kid.”
Becca pressed her hand against the cool glass tank, “What if it was the brains? What if your experiment worked and the author decided to read some the latest physics research?”
“What? Come on, this isn’t sci-fi—brains, they don’t think and download stuff.” Drew said, with an irritated roll of his eyes. “Look, don’t touch anything and let me figure this out.”
“Whatever,” she muttered as Drew wiggled the wires behind his computer. Noticing her coffee was getting cold she sighed, “We’re gonna be locked in here until someone comes in on Monday.” *****
Monday morning, Drew and Becca awoke to the magnetic door opening. Hypnopompic and hungry, they peered down the hallway where armed guards patrolled a tizzy of uniformed men perched at makeshift computer desks.
“You two! This way! Now!” a guard shouted. They shuffled towards the lobby couch where a man, a General, galumphed towards them.
“Now,” the General drawled, wagging a wad of papers at his dazed captives, “our Intel traced a cyberterrorist attack to your IP address. Unless you two cooperate, it’s life in jail for espionage and treason.”
Drew and Becca stared blankly at each other.
“Saturday 17:15,” the General read from his list, “your IP address bypassed UN firewalls; 17:40, downloaded launch codes of all documented nuclear warheads; 18:00, stole money from private accounts over $10 million. Intel says just one of those feats would have taken a group of experts half a year. Now, by the looks of things,” he paused, peering over his papers, “it seems unlikely you were working alone.”
“Sweep complete, General,” interrupted a uniformed man with a salute. “They must have an offsite hub. There’s not a computer in the building that could have made a signal as fast as the one we read, Sir.”
“Well, what do you have to say for yourselves? And remember: the dark, cold solitude of prison awaits traitors,” taunted the General.
“There were 2 brains wired to a computer: an author and a businessman. Brains are like super-computers right? What if they did it?” Becca interjected, coffee-less, irritated.
Everyone laughed at the absurdity —a brain doing things? —everyone, except for the General.
“Good God,” the General muttered, thumbing at his report. “Sunday 10-11:00: 3 books self-published to Google—pop sci and history; 16-17:00, over a thousand Wikipedia entries posted —mostly physics theories; by 19:00, the stolen money made $25.4 billion in the stock market. Is it possible?” The general said, staring blankly through Becca.
Eyebrows raised, the General whirled around and muttered slowly, “This…thing…could have ruled the world—access to global computers, nuke codes, money. 30 hours in, it stops everything —returns the money, reinstates the security codes, deletes the Wikipedia entries. It could have done whatever it wanted, could have destroyed us. Why didn’t it?”
The guards lowered their guns, the keyboards stopped clicking, and a suspenseful silence hollowed the room.
Unimpressed by the steeled uncertainty, Becca rubbed her face and said, “‘Well, maybe they saw enough of the world. Maybe they thought ‘why bother?’”