There is an autopsy, a funeral and a wake.
Ellie had meanwhile returned with Palmer and was reunited with the research team at the wake held at the military academy adjoining the laboratory. They paid their respects amongst the military and family. As the group encountered each other they conspired to slip quietly away and regather back at the lab. Because of its sensitivity Kitz had deliberately excluded The Fishbowl from the wake proceedings. The team however needed to reconnect, remember and consider their next step.
At the behest of John and Ellie the group dragged a couch and some deck chairs into The Fishbowl and irreverently brought in beer and pizza. Although Frank was not present there was an empathy with the place he elected to be and his italian heritage.
Discussion turned to his quadriplegia. Was he at peace now? Would they have found that final neural connection? Should the research effort have been directed there instead?
John Meredith stood.
“Attention please,” his voice slurred slightly. “I would like to toast one of the bravest men I ever knew”.
“Let me tell you scientists, and clergymen,” gesturing Palmer Joss, ”about a combatant. Frank fought. He fought for country. He fought for life. He fought for hope.”
The others looked at the General standing there. All knew that he was semi retired and had no experience in research, but he knew the spirit of people, perhaps more than any. He went on.
“Frank knew it would end one day. In his heart he knew it would be before his time. It left just one more battle. In the end Frank fought for peace. To peace,” he concluded and raised his glass.
They all celebrated him. John then surprised everyone. He reached into his tunic and withdrew a recorder carved from a dark rich wood. With aplomb he played a long single note.
“Nice”, he said and played the same note which then rose into a recitation of ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’. As the last reverberations dissipated John sat. “That tune, for you youngsters, was around almost before my time. It came from the 1940’s and it is strangely appropriate for Frank to have mysteriously rediscovered it. He returned from an active duty that I authorised, and he has been searching for a peace and a desire to again become the real boy he once was. If he is Pinocchio, I am his Gepetto. I am proud to have known him.”
He sat, leaned back, put his hands behind his head and asked, “What now troops?” The others felt a sense that things could now move on.
“Another subject?” Suggested James.
John Meredith stepped in. “Frank was quite unique. It took over a year before he could use the DBS to even manage his pain.”
Jan Shelley offered. “We don’t know whether our success came from sheer brain plasticity. Frank’s determination was also extraordinary. For all we know we may not have a candidate like him.”
Ellie returned from a reverie. “We also have a number of paradoxical questions. For instance, we think that the same moment can’t be experienced twice – no rewinding. We actually need to expand that question. We don’t know if the same moment can be experienced by two different people. Can I for instance use the same first moment? Second? or do I need to use Frank’s last moment”?
“And if you use Frank’s last moment,” stepped in Willie, “does it also become your last moment?”
The room fell into a hush.
They agreed that in order to move forwards they needed to break free of the deep brain stimulation device. They discussed Nanotechnology, Viral technology, focusing electromagnetic waves and MRI. There was no clear avenue forwards.
As Senior Neurologist Jan Shelley succinctly explained that Frank had been the recipient of the most advanced technology science had to offer. If there was an alternative to a Deep Brain Stimulation device it would have been used. The argument moved on to whether Frank’s need of a long term solution to quadriplegia differed from the system needed now.
The discussion went around in circles again with the focus on nanofibres and cochlear implants before Ellie asserted her authority.
“Please, please guys. Lets start afresh. What do we know?”
Willie tried to get his head around it. “Okay I’ll recap. I could have an experience in this real universe. I could then immerse myself into this other Quantum Computer ‘thing’ and have an eighteen hour experience in that universe. But then I effectively ‘save the game’ and come back into this universe!”
James stepped in, “that’s pretty much it. The difference is that you can’t simply ‘Revert to a previous saved game’ since that moment has happened.”
Willie expanded, “So my ‘life’ in this… What in blazes do we call it? ‘Quniverse’?… has a series of eighteen hour snapshots, and each one can be punctuated by a whole heap of deliberation and contemplation about what to do next before I go back into the Quniverse. Except I can’t do it, unless I apply a can opener to my brain.”
Ellies’ expression changed. “Well yes. What’s more is that maybe Frank has a saved game. He may not be able to deliberate and contemplate in this world any more, as you put it. But something might now continue on, if we keep the wheels turning.”
Silence prevailed, no counter argument seemed to present itself. “Well I suppose if it doesn’t work we should see a flat line.” Concluded Willie.
This train of thought proved far more sobering than they had been prepared for. Suddenly the group in The Fishbowl stood. The plan became formulated and the first steps of execution taken.
James worked feverishly to take his key analysis routine and shorten the cycle. A large part of the work was the key extraction and preparation of the signal for subsequent analysis.
While Willie and James continued to manually assure a supply of keys and signals to the cycle John brought on some of his software development team. Ellie assigned them to automate the process based on James’ preparatory work.
They worked as if Frank’s life depended upon it.
After several months of cycles John called a meeting to discuss progress.
Willie kicked in with his contribution first. “Well we have the process down to a pretty good period. We have an eighteen hour replay and a six hour turnaround. It means we can turn a cycle every day.”
James was uncomfortable. Ellie picked up on this and asked for his contribution.
“Well it appears as if the signal itself is getting longer.”
Eyes turned to him.
“I can’t be sure what this means but I have my suspicions. I think we are retaining too much history. This is creating a runaway of alternative options and more keys.”
“You mean Frank doesn’t forget anything?” asked John.
“Well in a crude way, perhaps yes. I think there is a way to truncate the history but I can’t be sure which keys hold the less useful history. If I go too hard it could be like a lobotomy. If I go too soft the cognitive process could bog down to a snails pace.”
Ellie drew in Jan. Since this was looking like some form of brain surgery, she thought it needed the input of a brain surgeon. “Jan can you have a look and give some insight to James on this?”
“Well, this is more like philosophy than neurology but I’ll try.”
Having dispersed, James and Jan then withdrew to the analysis area dedicated to the quantum computer signal output. Some time later they determined that some of the extra keys actually repeated. Jan expressed a deep desire not to cut anything back until absolutely necessary.
“I know Frank,” she stated, “he was, is, oh crap, he IS a fighter. If doing this was his choice, then he would probably have done so with the intent of trying to help.”
“But how could he help? He’s dead Jan!” James’ lack of sensitivity was something Jan was accustomed to. She had studied Aspergers, and knew the symptoms; it still bothered her.
“Maybe not! rather than cutting off what you call history he could be trying to communicate back out. Maybe there’s a sign or something that’s hidden to us.”
“What did you say?”
“I was just saying that we may not be cutting off just history.”
“But you also said something about signs.” James went silent for a minute and set up a replay of the data in a time lapse loop. Eventually he whispered, “these constant and repeating signals don’t kick in until well after we started our cycles after Frank died. He then called Willie into the room and explained his thoughts.
“Willie, if you were somehow digitized and recorded on a video and audio track, and you knew that someone was particularly interested in the signal, how would you attempt to send something out?”
Willie’s face went bright red. “I’d create some easily accessible and consistent channels. I’d create master keys and I’d lay down a few video and audio tracks.”
“Let’s get Ellie.”
Ellie, accompanied by John, patiently listened. She suggested James and Willie look for an audio and video output signal. The hope was that such a signal would also provide the clues on how to send any acknowledgement to Frank.
She said, “If we have to put signals in blind it may take ages, we need a clear acknowledgement. Also, if we don’t get it right on the first attempt we might begin double guessing ourselves. We need to find out which is which, and we need to exercise caution now.”
Willie and James were no longer looking for needles in haystacks. They had seventy-three cycles to analyse, the repeating signals reduced the candidate channels from seven thousand down to eight. No-one wanted to leave while the signal specialists were there doing their thing. If James and Willie could go without sleep so could they.
Soon enough they found an area where the signal could not be simple noise. The binary values yielded a pattern which appeared to show a slowly modulating series; a short and very inefficient audio track. When played it was Frank whistling “When You Wish Upon a Star”.
Maybe we should simply have Shazzam’ed it suggested Jan.
Willie slapped his forehead and linked in his library of spectrograms for the second time with extracts from the repeating keys.
Willie had originally applied this technique during the analysis of the first Contact signal. Many resources, including his had been bent towards the search for the primer. While it was Hadden Industries that had ultimately cracked the code Willie’s spectrogram library had been used extensively, but unsuccessfully at the time, to search for further patterns.
It now yielded a connection to the previous algebraic notation of vectors, tensors, and linear algebra.
“This isn’t video folks,” uttered Willie, “that’s Virtual Reality, right there!”
John said simply. “I need to make a phone call.”
Ellie had the feeling that it wouldn’t be long before Kitz would be back on the scene.