Chapter 9

Fishbowl

Frank was taken to ‘The Fishbowl’. The etymology of its nickname sprung from two sources. The technology was built upon Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices – SQUIDs. The room also required complete isolation from any other electrical or magnetic field. The means to obtain isolation necessitated symmetry, which was obtained through building it as spherical as practical. A plastic grid bisected the sphere and provided a sane platform to work from.

Access to the sphere was through a bridge walkway from the administration and research centre to ‘The Fishbowl’ building. Frank was able to direct his wheelchair from his residence across the bridge to the centre. Once there he was taken through a stage of preparation which included being moved from his metal wheelchair onto a mobile reclining system of white plastic. This resembled a dentists chair and had substantial padding to ensure a degree of comfort. Even though Frank’s quadriplegia blocked any signal of discomfort, the duration of his immersion necessitated a system to ensure he sustained no injury. The white recliner was fitted with an hydraulic massage system that kept him warm and his blood circulating. It also issued intravenous saline and nutrients for the duration of his experience.

Frank was wheeled in and centred in The Fishbowl, adjacent to a small instrumentation pillar. Many intricate coil-like structures were recessed around the outside walls of the spherical surface. These were controlled by a computer to ensure that no external magnetic field permeated the room. The current in these coils was adjusted in real time to nullify any variations.

Several technicians moved in and carefully connected a scaffolding structure that was assembled around his head. The sensors that were arrayed were then wired up to a metal box that was subsequently inserted into a shielded cavity in the floor.

Finally, long white teflon tubes were unfurled from the scaffolding and connected to bayonet fittings in the pillar. Another tube and mask for administering oxygen and anodyne was fitted to Frank’s face, the tube was then slid over an outlet in the pillar.

Words were whispered, a valve somewhere was opened. A hissing sound was heard and the tubes quickly gathered a frosty coating. For a moment snow peels off and drops from the tubes.

Frank had already figured there must be some sort of refrigerant in the tubes. He also knew that the scaffolding held the SQUID devices, and that they needed to be cooled. This was the usual drill. He knew what would happen next. He cleared his mind. He focused on his breathing. The noise would soon deliver him.

A neuron fires.

A small magnetic field results.

A current is induced in a nearby loop. A junction threshold is exceeded and several voltage cycles appear across the loop.

The cycles are counted, a value is encoded. Somewhere within the cryogenic valley of a simulated genesis the value alters an array of quantum spin states.

This generates a cascade of collapses in the exponentially sized superposition of all states. The range of potential outcomes is reduced. A resultant signal emanates and is fed back to a stimulation device, where another neuron fires.

The spin state of a second entangled electron collapses, and a synapse subsequently fires.

The network of axons orchestrates neurons, meanwhile a matrix of quantum entangled spin states echoes the activity from a series of different universes. Different possible realities converge.

Both systems progressively synchronise to a predestined disentangled state. Reality is made tangible as perception reasserts consciousness.

Sharp waves emanate from the hippocampus.

Memory is committed.

Frank Awakens.

“Wow!” said Frank, as his orientation was asserted.

“What was that song?“ he said as the doors opened and the technicians came to unwire him.

Ellie, James, Willie, John and Jan watched the awakening from the monitoring room. They looked at each other.

“Song?” Willie echoed.

Something was very different on this occasion, and it took some convincing before Frank finally accepted that the music he recalled was a part of the immersion.

The agreed protocol, if any experiment proved successful, was for John Meredith to conduct the interview. After some basic care Frank was taken to the interview room which was fitted to accommodate both interviews and interrogations. Others watched from behind the one way mirror and on monitors. A red light went on above the door which indicated that it was both sealed and that the session was being recorded. Somewhere within the infrastructure the date, time attendees, purpose, witnesses and other metadata were recorded and overlaid on the video. After 10 seconds the text faded and John commenced.

“Interview ID ‘DTP263’ between General John Meredith and Sergeant Frank Valetti. SETI research in attendance. Interview commencing at 11:06 after immersion experiment concluding at 10:37. I have accompanied Frank since leaving the isolation chamber and declare the integrity of the process and the admissibility of this interview.”

The formality dispensed with the General then turned and smiled at Frank, who waited patiently from a wheelchair sipping from a straw to rehydrate himself.

“What happened to you Frank?”

Frank cleared his throat and began, “Well I expected the same jumbled noise, but it was like a dream. More than a dream, more real than even…  life.”

“How was it like a dream?

“Well my mother was there. She seemed to understand what was happening. But she also knew me in ways that only she could.” Frank paused to reconsider his point of entry ”We were in the cabin, our cabin in the hills, and…”

“Go on.”

“I explained how I was in a laboratory and suddenly came to be with her. It felt so real! She said that we had taken another step. I asked her what she meant.” Frank paused in a reverie of recollection.

“Sergeant Valetti!” John Meredith asserted gently. He knew that Frank was still a soldier. “This is important, please go on.”

“Aye General.” He shook away the thought bubbles surrounding him. The words now came, not as the disciplined military report he was struggling to prepare, but tumbling, as raw data avalanched from Frank’s mind. “Well, when she said the word ‘step’ I just did. I couldn’t believe it. I was walking. It felt so real! I asked if I was really there. She laughed and asked where else could I be. I asked where I was. She said I knew where I was, and that I knew this cabin. She was right but didn’t seem to want to elaborate. I asked how I got there. She said I would find out in time.” Frank paused again and then looked into the General’s eyes “She spoke to me like I was her son, but also as if we had moved beyond that. She died 3 years ago Sir.”

Frank paused. John knew that Frank had much to absorb. He said simply, “Was there anything else important Frank?”

“Well, I asked what we should do next. She said we‘d meet again soon. I asked if Ellie’s father Ted was there. She said that others would also come, and he may be among them.”

John thought of Kitz, the question needed asking, “You have said several times now how it felt real. Did anything specific happen to support the idea that it wasn’t just a dream?”

Frank looked at the ceiling for a moment and continued, “If you are asking whether the ideas are mine or planted, then I have to say that I felt no constraint on my free will, entirely the opposite. I imagine if the experience was just a movie then I could only watch it. I actually interacted, as Dr Arroway suggested.” Frank’s eyes then widened, “If you are looking for evidence, well I haven’t been to the cabin for years, I don’t even know if it’s still standing. But the detail was amazing.”

“Can you provide us with the location of the cabin?”

“Sure can.”

General John Meredith concluded the interview. He explained to the others that after such a long immersion in The Fishbowl Frank’s carers needed to cater for his health. The General was meticulous in ensuring that his men were guaranteed dignity.

They waited 48 hours before conducting the test once again. In the interim several field staff sought further details from Frank, and determined to compare some of his detail with the physical cabin. The description reconciled, although no-one could be sure if this was due to memory or telepresence. They also deposited a foreign object at the cabin. The incongruous whiteboard had a blue star drawn in its center with the words ‘Hello Frank, feel free to leave a mark’. The blue marker was left behind.

+

Frank was prepared for a second test. Feeling like a hermetically sealed hermit, in a room illuminated by carefully isolated lights that cast a sterile medical glow in a white universe, he lay at the epicentre of his own consciousness. Spontaneously he accesses the only musical avenue available to him, he begins to whistle .

The acoustics of the chamber gently resonate the melody. Frank was the performer and audience to the tune of ‘When you wish upon a star’. Alone he held the locus of the chamber and indulged in sound. The song calmed him. He wasn’t entirely sure why it came to him.

Jan Shelley appeared apprehensive, “Has he started whistling before 18 hours of immersion before?”

The system is replayed again, with no result. This heralded a major roadblock. The ebullience of the previous success evaporated.

A few days later they then try a different combination. They exchange the original signal with the newly acquired signal generated by the quantum computer during the recent successful event. Again it fails to evoke any connection.

The dejection is palpable. For several days they consider what might be happening. Ellie and others of the SETI team have a sense of deja vu; immediately after Ellie’s first experience the signal had also stopped, and neither she nor anyone else could go back. Perhaps, as everyone was now beginning to suspect, it was a simple one shot event. They considered whether the SETI institute may have something to offer, but then they hadn’t advanced anything for some time.

Ellie harboured her own contemplations. Frank and herself may be unique. Certainly another subject like Frank would be difficult to find. Everyone knew that one of the next logical steps was to put someone else in The Fishbowl. Ellie was also forced to consider whether there was some special disposition she shared with Frank. No one was about to ask Ellie if she wanted to undergo the insertion of a Deep Brain Stimulation device. She anticipated the question and offered that if they found no-one else, and could find a non-intrusive way to provide a DBS equivalent, she would attempt the procedure herself.

Frank had commitments to participate in other research activities. There was not going to be another trial for some time. Theories were exchanged but nothing could be certain until Frank was again available to help.

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