Frank was not disturbed. He had never felt so much at peace. He had found that he was indeed lucky to be alive.
Frank knew that the invasive nature of his Deep Brain Stimulation device was highly risky. He was on all manner of immunosuppressant and other equally unpronounceable drugs. A brain aneurysm was hovering over his future like some sword of Damocles. It hovered over his electric DBS directed four wheeled throne, and it unceasingly threatened to plunge through his crown.
He knew now that the world with that sword was one of an infinite variation of worlds. He felt in his heart that there was another world, another universe, where the sword never had its genesis. He suspected now that that world was within reach, unless the sword fell first.
He also knew that the people pressing the buttons really knew what they were doing. He was listening intently to a conversation between them. There had been a lull in the experiments as the team dispersed to allow each researcher to follow a their own different line of enquiry. They had reconvened to share any findings.
“So why doesn’t it work any more?” asked John.
“Well,” ventured James, “there are probably thousands of combinations that won’t work and potentially only one that will. I wanted to let you know I had another look at the newly recorded output signal, from the immersion that worked.”
Willie countered, “Why? isn’t it just a mash of Frank’s signal and the original signal. Hang on, are you suggesting that because it went through twice we need to decode it again?”
“No, I don’t think so,” said James not really wanting to be interrupted. He had begun to speak in his ‘teacher’s tone’. This was an odd hybrid mimicry of the various teachers, lecturers and tutorial mentors he had encountered. It was usually associated with a patronising monologue but also a breakthrough he wanted to share. He continued, “in actual fact it is simpler. What we’re doing here is encoding thoughts with a key and throwing it into Q-Space. It looks like there’s something in Q-Space doing the same, but in reverse; they get a signal, they encode their signal and throw it back.” James glanced at his audience and Willie rolled his fingers, a signal to move on before he lost his audience. James closed his eyes and made a conscious effort to move his train of thought to different rails, ”anyway I went back to my previous analysis technique. I wanted to see if the keys were the same as the last time.”
Willie was no slouch. He was onto James’ idea immediately. “Let me guess. The signal has the same structure, but different keys.”
Willie stood up, he was now excited and words were tumbling out of his mouth. “Of course! This means the signal is more like a self writing polymorphic code.”
It was now Willie’s turn to get blank stares. He could see that no-one had quite seen the connection. He backed off a little.
“I, errm, read it recently in a magazine. It’s like some of the modern computer viruses or worms. In order to avoid detection it self mutates every time it is executed. This means that we were on the right path but with the wrong keys.”
They discussed how to use the new keys and signal. A whiteboard was used to try to formulate a model. The group gathered around the whiteboard and drew boxes, arrows, text and symbols as Jan filled in details of the functional blocks of the brain, and James filled in the key extraction process. Many of the boxes began to resemble matryoshka dolls, having been encapsulated in boxes within other boxes. The lines then took on different colours distinguishing chronological against information or neurological flow. In the end they seemed satisfied and the final art was photographed before being printed.
John Meredith wasn’t sure if all of this was really helping his original agenda. He wanted to direct efforts to telepathic and prosthetic controls. Now his best subject was wrapped up in this new direction, and he wasn’t sure if the research would venture down Telepresence, or some whole new universe.
What he had began to grasp was that there were bigger questions that were getting answered. It felt a little like the bigger steps in the early days of his project. Those steps had since become conservative, and the results incremental. He was now again ascending to the giddy heights of pure research. It seemed to him that the bold research agenda this new team were striking for could make bigger advances.
It didn’t change his disquiet or the tendency to hover his foot over the brakes.
“Hang on a minute,” he said. ”Let me get my head around this. You’re saying that this whole thing is like the story of the email, and grandma’s cat from months ago?”
“Exactly. Except once a particular key has been used it can’t be used again.”
James ran with the idea. “It’s like we used a password and read the email that said ‘the cat was dead and here’s the new password’. Nothing could alter the fact that the cat was dead, you can’t go back. Now the next email tells grandma about the kittens, it has a new reality to start from. This new reality has new variables and in this case needs a new password. This is actually kind of a quantum mechanical wave collapse.” James’ mind was also racing ahead and his explanations were now mashing with his thoughts.
John was exasperated. “But how do you give grandma her new passwords?”
Willie again stepped in. “Well right now we need a quantum computer to work them out. We don’t know how they’re made. For all we know they might be ticks of the clock.”
He paused and held up his hand while his epiphany matured. “You know a better explanation is a room with many doors and a bunch of keys. You take a key and open the door. Inside the next room you see another bunch of keys. You leave the keys behind and go to the next room. More doors more keys. But none of the keys open the door you came in.
John could appreciate this. The quantum computer was also a new resource. He previously had no access to such a thing. “Okay, so walk me through this process. We use these new keys for Frank with the new signal. We get another signal, and we work out yet another set of keys that we can use. And you’re saying this can just keep going and going?”
They finally conclude that if this theory is correct the system might represent a progression of conscious states through time. Each time the immersion is conducted the stage is set for the next.
The theory gets put to the test. The new keys are loaded with the successful signal. Frank is immersed and returns from the experiment smiling. With Frank’s validation that they indeed have the process worked out correctly they decide to contact Ellie to get her to return.
Frank is also debriefed again. John takes his clipboard into the debriefing room and Frank spontaneously starts talking about it.
“It was different,” he states.
“Well the last time the answers were a bit vague. Almost as if they weren’t fully thought out.”
“Well this time she seemed to have had more time to think about it.”
A bell chimed. This signified an interruption. John was put out, he disliked interruptions but knew it was likely to be important. He excused himself and went to address the interruption. It was Jan.
“Sorry John, I wanted to let you know that we need to be careful here.”
“Well I’m aware that you’ve defended Frank’s right to participate in the discussions and theories but it may have compromised his objectivity. He may be trying to fulfil a set of expectations as a result of the last discussions.”
“Noted,” he said. “Any suggestions?”
“Well I think you could ask that he consider alternative explanations. Frank’s smart, he’ll see through any mind-games. Let him try to convince us.”
Frank provided further explanations into the universe on the other side. He had been given some questions that might help resolve some of the philosophical paradoxes.
John referred to his list. “Did you ask her to provide some information that you could carry back as we discussed?”
“She seemed to anticipate me,” replied Frank.
“Well she asked if I had a theory that she may just be a part of my own subconscious.”
“Well I said ‘yes’ and I asked ‘how could I be sure?’” Frank paused, “she asked if it felt real. She asked if I knew the answers to her questions before she provided them.”
“And did you?”
“No, I think that was what really convinced me. Sure there were some questions that I kind of knew what she’d say. But not all of them. I didn’t feel …”
There was a pause while John waited, “Yes..”
“… Connected,” Frank looked illuminated. “That’s it. It was a feeling that I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next. Not like in dreams where a thought occurs at the same time as it sort of happens.”
John referred back to his notes. “Was there anything that would validate her as a separate consciousness?”
“Well I straight out asked her if she was real. She asked if my dreams were real. I said they sometimes felt real until they went weird.
Sir, there was a feeling I had while I was there that I could only honestly say that I have felt when I was truly aware. It was like there was a whole layer of reality lying beyond. A bit like I was crippled and I could learn to walk but more like I am blind and that I could learn to see.”
The conversation continued casually as if they were discussing a friend met recently at the park. Simple stories, exploring the edges of boundaries that neither knew how to explore and could not be easily articulated.
They eventually conducted another test. Their aim was to obtain as many sets of keys as possible. From a larger sample set they could then begin to look for patterns.
As the final moments of the signal transpired Frank’s vital signs collapsed. The medical team tried unsuccessfully to revive him. He was pronounced dead forty seven minutes after the test concluded.