Liz entered her lab like thousands of previous mornings. Technicians wearing white lab coats were walking about. One of them approached her.
“Good morning Liz, were you able to get a good night’s sleep?” Norma said.
“In spite of all the problems we have been experiencing around here, yes thank you. How is everything this morning?”
Norma waved her right arm in an arc and a holographic screen appeared in front of them suspended in mid-air. It was the familiar control panel that updated vital signs every thirty seconds on their subject.
Nutrient consumption level – normal
Temperature – normal
Core fluid level – normal
Replacement tank fluid level – 50%
Pump status – normal
Neurogenesis level – 1.7%
“Everything looks ok,” Norma said smiling.
Liz was always busy, rarely taking time to observe her surroundings. Today was different though, since everything appeared to be working normally. She sighed in relief, allowed her shoulders to relax, and looked around her incredibly bland lab. Aside from the high-tech equipment in the room, she was completely surrounded by concrete. Concrete ceiling, concrete floor, not even a measly window to look out of. Only the rectangular air vents decorated the walls.
Her meager surroundings were standard protocol due to the classified nature of the project she had been working on for the last 10 years. The Stanford Ph.D. in neuroscience that she earned when she was 18, helped her gain the respect of her peers who considered her a genius. That’s why the government hired her for the most ambitious project ever undertaken.
Almost 50 years earlier, in 2058, the US government decided to upload everything known to human beings into a massive database: every book, scroll, song, work of art, photograph, movie, video, speech, image, hieroglyphic tablet, etc., since the very beginning of time. Once the database was operational and stable, the government decided to up the ante. They wanted to create an AI (artificial intelligence) organic computer to make more productive use of the information. An agent contacted Liz, explained the importance of the project, made her an offer, and shortly after she was hired.
When she arrived, work had already begun conditioning her lab to the requirements specified in one of her books titled The Creation of Organic Computers. Based on her doctoral dissertation, the book was so innovative the government quickly classified and retired it from circulation for reasons of national security.
The entire complex where Liz’s lab was located consisted of 40 floors, built underneath Fort Meade, a military base in Maryland. Her lab was on the deepest level, about 360 feet below the surface. The restrictive environment often caused her discomfort. Without stairs, access to the floors was via four spacious elevators. They were designed to have complete control over who entered and exited the building and to make potential failure a remote possibility.
Large, dark, menacing security robots patrolled all entrances from above and to each floor. The center of the complex was pentagonal in shape. On the side with the right angles stood the elevators. Upon exiting them on every floor, a visitor immediately encountered a lobby with doors on each wall except the one with the elevator banks. Every door was explosion proof.
Each one of the floors housed classified projects. Liz, like most personnel, was forbidden access to any other floor or section besides her lab, some of the offices, the housing, food, and recreational areas.
The only one authorized to visit every part of the facility was General Tyrone Rex. A short, burly man in his early forty’s. T. Rex, as he was known by his closest allies, was the supreme commander of the complex. He had a direct line to the President of the United States. Liz had seen the secure red communicator in his office.
“Norma, please have our team do a complete analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid. I’m heading out for a while to relax. I’ll be back shortly to inspect the results. Thank you,” Liz said.
“I’ll have everything ready when you get back,” Norma said admiring Liz’s short blond hair styled behind her neck in a pony-tail.
Liz wore round dark-rimmed glasses, which protected her light blue eyes and gave her a scholarly appearance. Her intelligence kindled the resentment of her fellow students in her early educational years as she bounded through the “gifted and talented programs” and those kids bullied and made fun of her constantly. This made Liz fearful of social situations, which she avoided as much as possible.
She often went to the garden to relax and clear her mind. Today marked the culmination of years of hard work, the creation of a fully functional organic computer. Loaded with all of humanity’s history and faster than anything else on the planet, it had unlimited potential. Liz had doubts about the AI software provided by the military, though. It seemed lifeless and rudimentary. She had mentioned this to T. Rex on several occasions during the development phase, but thus far nothing had come of it.
She headed to the nearest bathroom, looked in the mirror at her tired but satisfied expression, took off her glasses, and splashed cold water on her face. She was exhausted. A white lab coat covered her slim athletic figure. The demands of her job made it pointless to apply cosmetics or compare herself to other women. Neat and clean was good enough. There was no-one at the complex to impress anyway. She didn’t really worry about this except for the occasional stray thought of romance. Liz was 28, in her prime, cooped up in a concrete maze forty floors below the surface, working on a powerful computer with the potential to solve many of the world’s problems. All thoughts of a personal life were put on hold until she achieved her academic goals. This is what she hoped her creation would be used for, but she was savvy enough to realize that despite reassurances to the contrary, the military might have other plans. Now that the job was done, she would have to wait and see.
Liz took off her coat and stretched, rubbing the back of her neck. She rotated her head, resting her chin on first one and then her other shoulder. Stooped over her desk for too long, Liz decided to pay the garden a visit. It connected to the complex at ground level. She took the elevator forty floors up, walked past the security robot, and headed through a passageway leading to a pair of large bulletproof sliding glass panels. On the way she heard a strange zapping sound. She headed in the direction of the sound and saw a group of soldiers and robots training outside in a large field. She walked towards them to get a closer look. The sound she had heard came from a small group of robots. A soldier passed close by.
“Excuse me officer, what is going on?” Liz asked.
“We’re in training,” the soldier said.
“What are the robots doing?”
“They’re shooting their lasers at 5” thick sheets of metal 100 yards away.”
“They never miss, how can they be so accurate,” Liz asked noticing how the lasers emanated from a tiny slit between a pair of glowing red eyes, on their cylindrical head.
“They can target anything with pinpoint accuracy using a multi-spectral low power laser aiming device.”
“What about that other group?” Liz asked noticing several robots that appeared to be suspended over water and others over rocks.
“We are testing their antigravity propulsion system, developed right here at the base. They weigh close to 300 pounds and yet they can glide effortlessly over rocks and even water. Pretty amazing, huh?”
“Those things are scary, I’m glad they’re on our side,” Liz said.
“Yes, I know what you mean.”
“Thank you, see you around,” Liz said returning to the passageway that led to the gardens.
Reaching the panels, she could see her destination through the thick glass. She approached and the panels slid open automatically to reveal a paved stone road surrounded by the garden. Chicory, purple-top verbena, spiderwort, mullein pink, sea lavender, and yellow wood-sorrel decorated the surroundings. Chestnuts, hemlock, sugar maple, and oak trees shaded the environment. Butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and squirrels were busy searching for food.
She immediately relaxed.
The garden was huge, about two and a half acres she estimated. Around it was a tall thick concrete wall with a series of electrical wires spanning the top to keep intruders out. Large reflective lamps and cameras were strategically placed around it. The sky was clear, the assortment of plants and colors stunning, and the warm summer weather inviting. During the winter months a magnetic force field was deployed to create a green-house effect. It protected the garden from the elements, keeping the temperature under control and the vegetation healthy.
Liz walked around for a while until she reached a manmade waterfall. Built using large river boulders arranged in the shape of a horseshoe, it was high in the middle and tapered down the sides. Water poured from the center forming a large pond below. A small palm tree sat in a ridge in the center of the pond, above water level, a thick shaggy trunk with a crown of dark green shiny leaves on top. What a beautiful specimen of Cycas Revoluta or King Sago, Liz thought. A marvel of engineering is keeping this Japanese palm tree alive in this environment. The sound of flowing water was soothing, neither too quiet nor too loud. The surface of the pond was covered with white and purple lotus flowers. Inside, Koi danced through the water. Some were white with orange and red spots, others were blue and white. There was even a red with black and a yellow one. She picked a spot on the soft grass nearby to sit and consider her progress.
B.R.A.I.N, as she had chosen to call her creation, was a complex collection of cloned neurons intended to work as a human brain, only on a much larger scale, more powerful, and more efficient. The design had taken years to perfect.
Clusters of neurons were responsible for mankind’s ability to find creative solutions to difficult problems. The clusters could communicate with each other in a complex flow of electrochemical signals. These signals made memory and thought possible. Emotions, however, were a different story, but one Liz had pondered about often. Emotions drove the faith, passion, and persistence necessary to unravel the mysteries of the universe. The Limbic system, the seat of the emotions, is a small structure about the size of an orange at the bottom center of the human brain. Below it is the reptilian complex which controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, and body temperature. Liz had spent many hours thinking about how to incorporate emotions into B.R.A.I.N. Humans have such a great diversity of emotions. There has to be a way to help B.R.A.I.N view the world like a human. Perhaps if I could provide it with the same senses that humans have. Make it possible for B.R.A.I.N to interact with its environment in a more active instead of a purely rational way.
After a while, Liz headed back to her lab.
“Hi Liz, here’s the chemical analysis you requested,” Norma said handing her a digital pad with the information.
“Thank you Norma, everything looks ok,” Liz said after carefully reviewing the data on the pad.
“What is that smell,” Norma said with an expression of disgust as a pungent putrid odor penetrated her nostrils and the sound of the general alarm pierced her ears.
“Something’s wrong! Everyone, get your safety masks on right now,” Liz yelled, reaching into the locker by the entrance to put one on.
She was struggling with her mask when she heard a loud noise behind her. She turned to face a group of soldiers and medical personnel rushing inside. Suddenly, her head began to spin and her knees buckled.
“Grab that lady before she hits the ground,” the sergeant in command ordered one of the soldiers.
Someone managed to get to Liz just in time preventing her body from striking the floor. The soldier laid her down softly as one of the nurses approached. Still conscious, Liz felt the sharp prick of a syringe on her left arm. Then she passed out. Ten minutes went by before she was able to regain consciousness. She could barely open her eyes. Through a tiny slit below her eyelids she noticed a nurse tending to her.
“Wha, What happened?” She mumbled.
“A biological agent was accidentally released by the lab directly above you and entered through the vents. Everything is under control now,” the nurse said.
“Ur, are my people ok,” Liz mumbled again.
“Everybody is fine except for one of your assistants, we did everything we could but, she wasn’t wearing a mask.”
The thought of someone being hurt gave Liz the strength to fully open her eyes. She noticed people running and moving frantically around her lab. Then she turned and saw her lying there. It was Norma, her limp body strewn on the floor several feet
away. Liz struggled to raise her hand and point to her.
“Is, Is she dead?” Liz asked.
“Yes I’m afraid so. I’m so sorry,” the nurse responded.
Liz started to cry wondering what had happened. All this time she and her team had been busy working on a project to help humanity. She had assumed that all the other projects in the building had a similar purpose. Her body trembled with apprehension, as she realized how wrong she had been. Right above her, someone was working on a deadly biological agent not to help or assist but to destroy.