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Brainjob – Chapter 1

August 18, 2011

The following is an excerpt from Brainjob, a 125,000 word science-fiction novel by David Sloma:

Chapter 1:

BIRTHDAY

Zenor looked at the Send button and watched as his aging fingers moved to press it. They seemed like alien spiders doing his bidding; part of him, but somehow not. On the screen in front of him, he looked at his daughter Danielle. She was on a slight time delay, high above on the International Space Station, or ISS as people tended to abbreviate it. He watched as the picture file was sent and grimaced at his own face on the screen. He thought he was looking really old. The phone booth suddenly seemed too small for him, claustrophobic. It smelled of rotten autumn leaves, old urine and dust. His chest felt tight. A gust of wind mixed with rain crept through the half-door, and he shivered.

Zenor’s hair – what was left of it – was sparse and white, standing out in sharp contrast to his dark skin. In the picture he looked much older than he was; a trick of the lens and photographic technique, or lack of. Blame it on the lighting and the cheap camera, he thought. In real life, he looked not bad at all for eighty years of age, but that was strictly body time. No more than a man in his sixties who took good care of himself would look. His wrinkles were there, but slight. But, Zenor was much older than his body; older than his eighties. He was a brainjob. His brain was a hundred years old and had been put into a cloned body when Zenor was much younger (he wished it had been a clone of his own body, but he’d never had that kind of money). He’d seen many changes in the world in that hundred years, too many to try and remember. The picture was from his birthday last night, May 2, 2051.

Danielle had been up on the ISS for a year. It had been her dream to work in space and since the colony on the moon had been established, space workers were in high demand. She was his pride and joy, born the old fashioned way with no genetic selection beyond the standard screening for defects that virtually everyone did. She was thirty-three, born long after Zenor and his only wife Madeline had separated. They’d never been formally divorced and that had come back to bite Zenor in the behind – and not just in a monetary sense, though that did hurt, also.

Madeline had invoked an obscure legal directive, part of the New Genetic Law, which gave a wife unheard of power over her husband’s sperm. Very much like the way the divorce laws were tilted in the women’s favour, so too did the genetic laws follow. Madeline had wanted a baby and was still able to carry one due to medical advances that made her aging body strong and fertile. Zenor’s deposit of sperm, on file since he fulfilled the marriage license requirement of putting a sperm sample in cryogenic preservation, had been retrieved by her. The woman had to give an egg sample also. So, she followed her legal right, used his sperm to fertilize her egg, had the embryo implanted in her womb and carried Danielle until she was naturally born.

Zenor had access to Danielle through the same provisions of law, but he hardly thought it was fair. So, he didn’t have much contact with his daughter as she was growing up, but he sure got the bills. He had regretted paying the child support at first, but now that he saw how Danielle had grown up beautiful and had made him proud, he was bursting with love for her. He may have hated Madeline for what she had done, initially, but in the end he was glad she had done it. He knew there was a reason he had married her.

Danielle had never known a world without a moon base and space travel. She wished she could have seen the live Mars landing in 2015, but she wasn’t born yet. She’d watched the archives the exploration teams had compiled hundreds of times and seen the ruins of an ancient civilization there, but it wasn’t the same as experiencing it live would have been. Biding her time on the ISS and hoping to get chosen for the Jupiter mission, she still had dreams of long-range space travel. The political tension and threat of war might scupper her plans, so she preferred not to mention it to her father. She didn’t want to worry him, especially not on his birthday.

Zenor smiled and saw his daughter smile at his picture on the screen. Her smile was radiant, youthful and full of joy. Her long blonde was hair pulled tight into a ponytail to keep it from floating in her face. Zenor strained to speak loudly in order to overcome the noise of the rain which fell hard on the street outside and against the thin plastic roof of the phone booth. The aircar traffic whooshed and woomed overhead, as ground traffic splashed by. The weather mods must be off today, he mused. Rain was usually announced, and often moved away from the cities. He took a glance at the sky with a hard eye, then looked back at the volume display. The tracker registered his eye movements, but did nothing to raise the volume. He banged the side of the videophone with his hand.

“Kee-rist! That hurts!” Zenor yelled at no one in particular, but people passing by seemed to notice.

He decided to do it the old fashioned way and turned the volume on the greasy keypad up to full by hand. A group of noisy teenagers walked by the booth, munching on the latest synthetic food: a pastel coloured, plastic-looking bar that turned your hair green, or whichever colour of bar you ate. Several of them had bands of rainbow colours through their hair at various intervals. He’d heard that they also took some sort of drug that made them want to stay up all night and dance while listening to really fast, loud electronic music. Zenor wondered why they all insisted on shouting so much, even though they all had miniphones in their ears, allowing them to stay in constant communication with each other. He wished he had enough money for a miniphone, but that was simply not the case on his disability pension. So, he had to slum it in the old-style phone booth.

“Keep it down out there!” he growled, then turned back inside.

He bent over the videophone again. “That picture was taken last night at a party some of my old friends had for me at a real swanky restaurant. Must have cost a bundle, but they wouldn’t let me pay any of it! Aunt Sophie was there too. How do I look? Not too drunk, I hope?” Zenor winked and grinned in front of the camera.

The videophone went silent for a couple of moments as the transmission reached geosynchronous orbit, clicked through thousands of kilometers of relays, fiber optics and satellite feeds, was translated into microwaves, surged through the Earth’s atmosphere, was shot into space, and finally received at the station for Danielle to watch. Then, Danielle spoke her response and the signal traveled all the way back to Zenor again.

The videophone in front of Zenor played her signal: “It’s a very good picture of you, dad. I hope I age as well!” She laughed, trying to sound brave, but not really wanting to find out what age would do to her.

Things were better with nanomedicine, but people still got old and died unless they had themselves cloned and brainjobbed. But, cloning still had its risks, and was very expensive. Also, there was space illnesses to worry about, as zero gravity was not kind to the human body, causing muscle and bone deterioration over time; maybe it was a sign that humanity was not meant to inhabit space.

“Happy Birthday! I’m sorry I can’t be there, I really am. It’s not everyday you turn a century old! I just wish you had someone to care for you, to be with!” Danielle frowned as she swayed in zero gee, holding onto a console handle for support, her ponytail bobbing in weightlessness.

“That’s ok. You have more important things to do than to come down here for a silly old man, and his slice of cake and some candles. I’ve gotten good at being a loner. I’ve always hated birthday parties, anyway.” He looked slightly sad and rubbed the white whiskers on his chin.

That hit her right in the gut, even so far away. She wanted to hug him, to kiss him on his big fuzzy forehead.

“Still, we’re going to sing you Happy Birthday! It’s the least I can do. You got my gifts, right?” She said, trying to brighten the mood.

“Yes. And, I don’t mind telling you that I didn’t need a new suit or a trip to the moon base, but thanks!” Zenor smoothed out the very thin, yet warm, material of his new suit. His measurements had been taken years ago in a tailor’s shop, and Danielle had contacted them and had a new suit made from his measurements in the tailor’s database. The material was new, of a breakthrough fiber. It was remarkably light and adjusted to any temperature to still be comfortable to wear, pulling its fibers closer for warmth, or moving them farther apart to make heat exchange more efficient. The tailor said it was going to last over a hundred years. That had made her smile, but she didn’t tell Zenor about that part. She hoped they would both be around for another hundred years and with modern medicine, they just might be.

Danielle drifted away from the camera to reveal the other astronauts behind her. The flags on their suits were the red and grey slashes of Furion, the last greatfree state. Furion had taken control of the ISS and the other foreign astronauts had either left, or joined their ranks, assimilating into what was thought to be the last, best hope for freedom in the world. It was freedom by force, so not ideal, but it was the top political system running at the moment. The neighboring provinces were far more retrograde and repressive when it came to personal liberties and opportunities for its citizenry then was Furion, and its capital ofFurionCity.

From out of nowhere (as far as Zenor could see), she produced a cake impaled with non-lit candles. Zenor smiled, watching, enraptured, still not quite believing she was a part of him; his blood, his child. Danielle’s face shone with happiness, her blue eyes deep and alive.

“They won’t let us light the candles up here, for safety regulations. But, we can still sing!” Danielle turned to the others and nodded. They began to sing in unison.

“Happy birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy birthday, Mr. Hemmings! Happy Birthday to you!” the five astronauts warbled, not so badly out of tune as could be expected. Danielle sang “Daddy” while the others sang “Mr. Hemmings.” They all clapped, taking their hands off what they were holding and floated.

Zenor watched them and marveled at the modern world that allowed this communication, and the fact that the people he was talking to were hundreds of kilometers up in space. It was mind-blowing to an old man like himself. Inside the little booth on this rainy street, Zenor sighed. He never thought he’d see so many birthdays. He smiled into the camera. “Thank you all! Danielle, especially thanks to you! Oh…!” Zenor winced in pain and shifted his legs. He grabbed his right hip and massaged it.

“Daddy, are you ok?” She floated back to a close position in front of the videophone, peering into the screen, striving for more resolution, more information.

“Yeah, it’s just this damn hip of mine. Won’t leave me alone. I wish they had seats in these damn things!” He looked around the booth for a place to sit, but there was none.

The transmission flickered and brapped – the slight time delay fragmenting Danielle’s words, and chewing them up into distorted digital noise.

“What was that, honey?” Zenor peered into the monitor at the flickering picture streaming into pixels and static.

“I said to go see about your hip, Dad. And, you are welcome! I just wish mom were still here to celebrate with us.”

“Yeah,” Zenor said and fell silent, gripped in a melancholy memory.

She saw the expression on his face and frowned, not wanting to dredge up the past, especially not on that day. “Well, Dad, I have to go. We have a tight schedule to follow.”

He waved at the screen. “Thank you, honey! And, thank your co-workers. I really appreciate it.”

“Happy Birthday, dad!” Danielle blew a kiss, waved, then the transmission stopped.

“Goodbye, love,” Zenor clicked off the videophone which displayed “Transmission terminated.” He pulled out the credit card, another gift from Danielle, from the slot and put it in his pocket. She could have just transferred the credits to Zenor’s account, but he was stubborn and refused to get a credit chip implanted in his hand. That would change immediately if the warring provinces finally got control ofFurionCity. Micro-chipping was mandatory in every other nation on Earth from birth.

As he turned to exit the booth, Zenor felt a sharp shot of pain and grabbed his hip again; as if it would do any good, or ease the pain. He fumbled for a bottle of pills from his pocket and opened it, knocking the lid flying. The lid tumbled down to the wet ground, just out of his reach.

“Dammit!” Zenor muttered. He turned the bottle over in his hand, and wondered how many to take, or if he should just take the whole bottle and get it over with? That would stop his pain forever. Passers-by took quick glances at Zenor, at his unkempt clothes and unshaven, grimaced face, but kept moving in the cool rain and the rush. Nothing special here, keep moving along, he thought. Zenor looked like just another mad man on the street: trouble to be avoided. He shook the bottle. Empty. He flung it at a trashcan. There was not going to be any relief from the pain for a while yet, existential or bodily.

Zenor didn’t think he’d ever use the ticket to the moon base, but it would be nice to get off-planet for a while. He’d never been, but thought there was enough trouble down on Earth with humans and their fighting, stupidity and waste. He could only imagine what went on up in space, and hoped it was not just as bad.

The robot taxicab  slowed as it passed by, the cameras recognizing that Zenor was alone and maybe in need of a ride.

“Good evening! May I offer you a ride?” chimed the too-happy simulated human voice of the robot taxi-driver.

The door automatically opened and the robot faced him, simulated eyes flashing. The screen where its mouth should have been displayed an animated smile. Zenor grumbled and kept walking. He didn’t have money for that sort of thing, besides the robot-drivers freaked him out.

“Nope,” he said and spat on the ground, his saliva mixing with the rain.

The robot, recognizing his reply as a negative response, tipped its hat in a farewell gesture.

“Then, I wish you a pleasant tomorrow, sir,” the robot chirped.

The door closed and the taxi pulled away, nearly splashing him with mud from a puddle.

Zenor continued on his way, hobbling along slowly, in great pain. The rain continued to pelt down and the wind made it worse. The sky was grey and it was getting dark early due to the heavy clouds. The city menaced around him like a black shadow. He made his way towards the hospital, using his cane to steady his steps. The bright white letters of the hospital sign in the distance lured him like a beacon, or a moth to a flame through the storm. They said: UNITO HOSPITAL– EMERGENCY ENTRANCE.

Copyright ©2011 David Sloma. All rights reserved.

You can buy Brainjob as an ebook in multiple formats here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/62568

On the Kindle from amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0053004IA

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0053004IA

https://www.amazon.de/dp/B0053004IA

Also available as an ebook from Apple, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Kobo, Scrollmotion, and Sony.

Go to Chapter 2

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