Lonelier but closer together than ever (A Christmas Tale) (*)

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
7 November, 2017
Editorial: 147
Fecha de publicación original: 22 diciembre, 1998

So you knew everything and I knew nothing, tell me then what I dreamt this morning

Carlos got home just on time. Within a few minutes, another radioactivity alert curfew had begun. He adjusted the sensors which hermetically sealed the house. Little by little, the humid heat that had been creeping in through the windows started to disappear. The air conditioners very soon made the atmosphere pleasant. Getting out of the shower he put on a pair of shorts and began to prepare for Christmas dinner. It had been a long time since he had seen his family and they had arranged to celebrate Christmas together although his parents, brothers and sisters and other guests were scattered all over the globe. In fact, some of them would already have had supper and others had not begun yet. But all of them were going to meet in cyberspace and have a typical festive feast. Carlos adjusted the parameters of his quantic processor, capable of controlling 160 internal and external intelligence agents (IA) especially programmed for these occasions. While he was getting ready, he swallowed a couple of capsules: two miniscule, hollow, glass cones which would reach his cortex in fifteen minutes. In an hours’ time he’d be ready for the big celebration.

The cones were made from neurotropic chemicals extracted from his own nervous system. Within half an hour he could already feel the typical tingling sensation at the base of his neck. He must pay attention now to the exact place where these “pins and needles” were produced because it was there he would have to attach the couple of electrodes which would make contact with his neurons. The cones would act as transmitters/receptors situated at the base of the skull exchanging signals with the computer. While he carefully manipulated the set of electrodes, Carlos read the latest news bulletin on the window pane. Another link in the “bureaucratic holocaust” had been broken: another nuclear arms deposit, this time more than 70 years old, had exploded near the mouth of the Colorado River. The radioactive cloud was moving towards the ocean. It would take 16 hours to reach Japan and would enter the Asian continent over northern China. “Lonelier but closer together than ever”, he said to himself. While on the one hand their bodies were being attacked by radiation, interconnected minds were able to work collectively, in some cases without the need of physical support, in a neuronal space where the experiences of some nourished the rest. “How ironic”, he mused.

Twenty minutes later, Carlos had already applied the electrodes to his head and the rest of his body, distributing them strategically around muscle ends. He checked the IA’s, many of which were complex artificial nervous systems made of biological material. Some of those inside his body carried nano-electronic processors made up of traces of his own genetic code so that they could interact with his genes and stimulate the production of certain hormones. He paid special attention to two of these, Glenas (internal) and Auges (external), the most expert of them all, on whose preparation and training he had spent a lot of time. They were in charge of supervising and directing the work of the rest of the agents. Auges was his favourites. It knew all his dreams and fantasies. When he sent it off into the Net in search of sensations, none compared with the way it administered them to his neurons. Auges was the closest he knew to the elders of the tribe which anthropologists had described.

As soon as he was comfortably settled in his armchair, Carlos connected the electrode package to the computer. From that moment on the whole house was subject to the control of his mind and body. What he had to do now was extend its radius beyond his home. He ordered the sensors in the room to turn off all the lights. The first of the IA’s went into action. Carlos mentally opened the connection to the Internet and asked that the CRY, the cryptochrome pigment regulating the circadian rhythms of organisms related to light and stimulating its intellectual, imaginative and emotional faculties, be activated. An IA stimulated the appropriate gland with a gentle pulse. His brain was gradually bathed in a soft blue light. Carlos saw it as if his eyes were indeed open and the room itself lit up. Now came the part that gave him the most physical pleasure: the “switching on” of subliminal perception which would wake up his subconscious to speed up neuronal identification of images, sensations and muscular movements that not even he realised were in his head. Moreover, it will open the necessary connections for interacting with the dreams and fantasies the IA’s extracted from his personal Alpha infoteque increasing his memory reach.

For a few minutes it felt as though someone was delicately “combing” his neurons. The IA’s began to “talk” to the neurotransmitters. He felt the physical sensation at the back of his head. He couldn’t help his mouth beginning to water in expectation. It was dinner time. He swallowed the saliva and sank back even further into the armchair. From somewhere in his mind there arose a topographical map whose striking relief lines were familiar. His body felt the physical sensations of handshakes, kisses, caresses. He lavished them on others too without moving. He heard the laughter and greetings. Crystal clear images began to flood his brain. The map unfolded, twisted and formed beautiful shapes as the meeting continued. The gastronomic IA’s went into action. He could feel his mouth filling up with a bubbly liquid. His taste buds revelled in the champagne. The pulsations of the nerves sent waves down towards the throat while his brain perceived the sweet balsam of the vine. He couldn’t help smiling and he saw it travelling immediately to the map of the encounter.

Little by little, he was seized by the sensations of the first course: a Russian salad tart covered in mayonnaise. The taste invaded his mouth and then spread to the rest of the body wisely distributed through his neurotransmitters. He had hardly noticed that it needed a little salt when an IA had already slightly altered the flavour to adjust to his desires. One part of the map was made up of a giant infoteque of nutrients, tastes, smells and sensations, all of them electronic. Carlos saw how the IA’s consulted it rapidly selecting the relevant information and then processing it and turning it into electromagnetic impulses that distributed just the right amount of whatever it was that he needed. There was something missing from the second course, a meat stew with rice and fried bananas. He had eaten this dish often at home and, although he hadn’t had it for years, something in his brain told him that all was not as it should be. Hot spices! No sooner had this occurred to him than the IA’s had already extracted a wide range of chillies from the condiments section whose essences were compared with the subliminal sensations in Carlos’ mind. In just a few seconds, his nerve endings received the missing pinch of spicy red pepper.

Suddenly he heard music in the background. Music mixed with the sound of voices. Then the voices grew louder. Carlos felt something opening up like a box in his brain letting out the forgotten echo of an argument. He wasn’t enjoying the feelings that began to wash over him. Neither Glenas nor Auges intervened. They were trained to let the memory have free rein, particularly when it dug up forgotten or subconscious images. Carlos moved uncomfortably in the armchair and took a big swig of wine. The voices rose to shouts. He felt them vibrating in his chest with unusual fury. It was him and his father fighting. Once again. It hadn’t happened for years. The images exploded in his mind.

He tried to calm down despite his anger. His brain sparked and he felt he was losing control of some parts of it. Impulses reached it from other areas which turned into recognisable, familiar images. Brothers and sisters and friends trying to calm him down. He drank some more wine. It didn’t have the same bouquet as the first time he’d tasted it. “My neurons are getting foggy”, he thought. He noticed that the “wine waiter” IA had changed the wine and his nerve endings were excited anew with a vaguely familiar old earthy flavour. A hand touched his shoulder. It was his beloved sister Clara. He began to cry. One of the IA’s had dredged her up out of the family infoteque, although she had died three years ago. He gradually calmed down. He clearly heard the message Auges were depositing into his auditory nerves: “Life is a never ending river, only its course changes”. It was paraphrasing him. A fleeting smile crossed Carlos’ lips and he felt himself getting over the unpleasant incident. Auges and the wine were having their effect on him.

After dessert he felt really tired. He had been getting secondary signals for a while that he didn’t want to process. At last he bade the family goodbye. He felt shattered. And drunk. Not bad for a party celebrated in the mind. The IA’s slowly began to disconnect from the Net and his own neuronal centres. The blue light faded. He felt the gentle combing of his neurons again. Disconnection was near. A sudden tiredness took hold of his muscles. He couldn’t wait to go to sleep. He felt more and more plastered, but the drunkenness was very well spread all over his body by his IA. While he was taking off the sensors and electrodes, he caught a glimpse of some of the agents recording information in his geneteque. Tomorrow he would check it out.

As he got up he read the message on the window pane: “Do not open, the curfew has been extended. Strong winds blowing from the south-east”. He knew what that meant. Radioactive clouds and other pollution would cross over the region. He might not be able to leave the house for about five days. “Well, I’ll work here instead”, he thought to himself. He staggered to his bedroom. The dream infoteque light was blinking. He got into bed, fixed an electrode emitter onto his temple and tuned it into the apparatus which seemed to augur a very prolific night. Just after he’d gone to sleep, the Alpha infoteque lights started to shine. The first dream was reaching the registration module.

(*) All the devices mentioned in this article already exist, as well as the functions of the brain and other parts of the body/organism. They are not networked. Not yet anyway.

Translation: Bridget King.