by James Pyles
Part 1 of 3
July 2017 – Salerno, Italy
Standing among hundreds of locals and tourists on the dock, Mikiko Jahn never forgot that she was no longer human. However, the casual or even careful observer would be hard pressed to tell otherwise. The former nuclear technician was what Professor Daniel Hunt once called “the happy accident.” He hadn’t realized that she was listening with her enhanced hearing when he said it, but that was a long time ago.
26 girls all between the ages of 14 and 18 were dead. They were a group of refugees from Libya, presumably drowned in the Mediterranean. The bodies had been found next to a deflated rubber dinghy that was all but sunk when the rescue boat arrived. The police had ordered autopsies to determine whether the girls had been tortured or sexually abused. They had been traveling through the refugee pipeline to Europe when something went wrong. According to the briefing Mikiko received days ago from Geoffrey Colins and his team, these 26 girls were now the latest victims of the human trafficker known only as the Sandman. That’s why she was here now and why the next stop in her manhunt was London.
The young Japanese womatytyn looked as if she were just another curious spectator watching the corpses being offloaded from the vessel sent to retrieve them. Mikiko felt the tears welling up behind her eyes and almost overwhelming grief and anger blossom like shrapnel in her chest. Then the neural circuitry in her brain suppressed those feelings, replacing them with an impassive calm.
Well, it was mostly impassive. The residual emotions she experienced still remained, but they were well contained. It was an odd sensation. How had she come to be like this?
# # #
March 2011 – A Secure Medical Facility near Tokyo
“She’s seizing again, Doctor.” The technician running a vast set of medical electronics attached to the patient felt her own heartbeat racing at the horror of what they were trying to save.
“It’s a seizure alright, and it’s because she’s panicking. Can’t you bloody fools keep her sedated?”
Daniel Hunt had PhDs in Cybernetics and Synthetic Biology. He was also Professor Emeritus of the University of Edinburgh, President and CEO of Syntheorg Corp, and inventor of a highly experiential process using artificial DNA with microrobotics and AI to repair or replicate damaged biological tissue. But not only was he no medical doctor, he had the bedside manner of a highly annoyed badger. He might have looked like one too at only five foot eight, a bit of gray in his otherwise abundant mop of curly red hair testifying to early middle age, and tending toward slightly portly.
“Thank you, Professor. We’ll handle it. After all, we’re responsible for the fact that she’s still alive when she shouldn’t be.” Dr. Benjamin Tate tried his best to mimic the irritated tone he heard in his boss’s voice, but Hunt ignored him.
Tate was a renowned trauma surgeon, while the doctor beside him Rosemary Shelton was one of the top ten neurologist in the world. They had been flown in for this case, from London and San Francisco respectively, to support their Japanese colleagues. The trade was a large sum of money transferred to their bank accounts in exchange for signing an NDA that meant they wouldn’t speak about this project for the rest of their lives.
The medical team was the finest assembled. Both the Japanese and British governments had given Hunt a virtual blank check to use his revolutionary techniques to rebuild the horribly disfigured and crippled patient. Mikiko Jahn had been a young nuclear technician who suffered the misfortune of working at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant when an earthquake and then a tsunami resulted in the worst reactor accident since Chernobyl.
After rescuers dug her out of the rubble, once it was determined that, in spite of her unimaginable injuries, she was still alive, her doctors started looking for unorthodox solutions to keep her that way. When they discovered that Dr. Hunt was practically next door as a guest lecturer speaking at the University of Tokyo, Naoto Abe became involved and decided to take the risk. As special advisor to the Prime Minister on “covert” matters, he ordered Mikiko moved to a secure medical facility for “specialized” treatment. In the following 48 hours, an insane plan was hastily thrown together by the scientific and security apparatus of both nations. They convinced Dr. Hunt not only save the twenty-two year old woman’s life, but to reconstruct her to be more than human.
“There’s a limit to what pharmaceuticals can do, Hunt. Just look at her. The steam explosion of the reactor coolant tank was merciless. All she is now is a lump of flesh, a head, torso, burned beyond recognition.” At six foot one, Tate towered over Hunt, and while he tended toward celebrity good looks, his thinning blond hair and wide spectacles made him seem older than 43.
“Thank you Doctor. I can see just fine.” Hunt put as much ice into his voice as possible. “You’ve been hired to do a job, not complain.”
“But there’s practically no access to her circulatory system. I’ve got just two lines in her and they’re on the verge of collapsing. Under other circumstances, I’d induce coma by…”
“I think we can lower her body temperature to achieve basically the same effect.” Shelton, ten years older than either the scientist or other doctor, didn’t speak much, which surprised as well as relieved Hunt. He felt that she, at least, was concentrating on saving Mikiko’s life.
“Extreme hypothermia, Doctor. Excellent idea.”
“Once in coma, she won’t be able to dislodge her airway.” Until just days ago, Hunt hadn’t met an “airway specialist” but apparently men like Tadashi Hamamoto were common on trauma teams. Besides the dozens of electronic leads, probes, and IVs, the air tube feeding into Mikiko’s throat was her only other “feature.”
“Just how long can you keep her like that? A couple of weeks? A month if you’re lucky? We’ve had her in this facility eight days already and you’re still trying to figure out how to keep her stable.”
With all of the doctors, plus trauma nurses, plus equipment, Hunt had little room to pace and he was dying for a smoke, but he managed to carve out a few feet of room while pondering another solution. Then he abruptly left. Tate slowly exhaled as the door closed behind the cyberneticist.
# # #
May 2015 – A Secure Medical Facility near Tokyo – Codenamed Project Chalkydri
Whoever she had been died four years ago and it was Mikiko Jahn who they heard laughing. The two therapists on duty thought she might be hurt. It didn’t sound like real laughter. More like one of those novelty store laugh bags, mechanical laughing, maniacal laughing.
Because she didn’t own her life, the door to her rooms wasn’t locked. Medical technicians Tashiro Momoru and Brigit Monroe rushed through almost side-by-side. Mikiko was sitting in her living room, the only light coming from the television. She turned to see the pair run in, and still laughing her strange, machine-like laugh, she pointed at the show being played and said, “Oh, hi. You’ve got to see this. It’s hysterical.”
Tashiro paused near the door when he realized what was on the screen, but Brigit rushed over to Mikiko to get a better view.
“What are you watching? Where did you get this?” The twenty-six year old Monroe’s Irish accent had been difficult for Mikiko to understand at first, but even though they were nearly the same age, Brigit was protective like a mother.
Flashing green eyes under tightly restrained auburn hair scanned the screen, the disc player, and the case next to it. Mikiko wasn’t supposed to know that as part of her recovery, her content input including films, television, and music were all restricted. But it wasn’t hard to guess where she’d gotten a recording of an old 1970s show.
Brigit turned and scowled at the now contrite Tashiro. Mikiko was still laughing behind her, watching an actor with “bionic powers” leap over walls while attired in a pink polyester “leisure suit.”
“I thought it would be interesting if she could see how fiction depicts…well, what she’s experiencing.”
Pivoting back to Mikiko, Brigit put her hand lightly on her shoulder. The Japanese woman was wearing only a long bathrobe and the “incompleteness” of her reconstruction was plain. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, sure. Thanks for lending me this, Tashiro.” She raised her voice to make sure he could hear her. “Old American TV is so funny.”
“Enjoy your show.” Brigit made her voice soft and reassuring. “If you need anything, just buzz.”
Mikiko nodded, not taking her eyes off the screen.
After the door was closed behind them, walking down the hall, Brigit issued a low snarl. “I put up with your ridiculous retro-TV shows and movies because we’re teammates, but Hunt will disembowel you when he finds out about this.”
The thirty-year old former gymnast from Hawaii mimicked a cringe. “Oh, come on, Brig.” She’s not some machine we’re programming.”
“You didn’t know how she’d react. You could have done a lot of damage.”
“She thought it was funny. I know she still needs a lot of work, but I think she’s coming to terms to who she is. Besides, with you playing Mother Theresa, me handling her physical rehab, the rest of the team all watching over her…”
“You think she’ll be fine.” Brigit straight-armed one of the swinging doors back into the observation room. Because Mikiko’s life wasn’t her own, she was under constant surveillance. Monroe slumped into her seat in front of the console monitoring Mikiko’s vitals while Tashiro, shyly grinning like a naughty frat boy, took his chair beside her.
“She’s not a cyborg like on that TV show. She’s more…synthorg.”
“I know, Brig. She’s a completely reconstructed human being. Artificial DNA the same as her own, being built and rebuilt by an army of microscopic robots guided by a cutting edge AI…”
“Hunt calls it Sofia. Who names an AI anyway?”
Brigit turned to one of the monitors showing their patient’s rooms. Mikiko’s hair still required more reconstruction. It looked like a first attempt by a 3D graphics designer at producing a head of hair on a CGI character. Her body structure, particularly her arms and legs, also still looked puppet-like. The current problem with Mikiko’s speech was the orientation of the jaw. Dr. Hunt said that in a week or so, the alignment should firm up and her enunciation would improve.
“She laughed. Even with the bio-neural chip that regulates her emotions, I don’t think I’ve heard her laugh before.”
The chip was Hunt’s first answer in saving Mikiko’s life. It suppressed panic, terror, all of the emotions that would naturally occur when you first realize you’ve been horribly disfigured, a lump of flesh beyond repair. But Tashiro knew it gave them the chance to finish Mikiko, not just to remake her as she was, but to make something better. A synthetic woman.
# # #